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Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry. If you worry a lot about a variety of things and can’t seem to stop, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. GAD affects about 3 out of 100 people in the U.S. in any given year. Most people worry occasionally, but people with GAD worry excessively for at least six months or more. Common worries include health, money, jobs or family matters.
GAD may be caused by a variety of factors. Evidence suggests that the following play a role in causing GAD:
GAD often occurs in conjunction with other mental health conditions such as depression and phobias. Women are twice as likely to be affected. Although this type of anxiety disorder can begin at any age and may develop gradually, the risk is highest between childhood and middle age.
Symptoms of GAD are often experienced when feeling stressed with a combination of emotional, behavioral and physical symptoms. Signs and symptoms include:
While panic attacks are not a sign of GAD, it’s important to not dismiss the negative effects of a constant worry. Talk to your doctor if the following statements are true:
Don’t dismiss the harmful effects of constant worry. Discuss your symptoms with a Mercy behavioral health provider who will develop a treatment plan to help you along the path to healing.
Anxiety doesn’t just affect your state of mind – you’ll notice physical symptoms. The body responds to anxiety by releasing cortisol and other stress hormones, which can cause nervousness, dizziness, sweating, heart palpitations, trouble concentrating, rashes and more. Beyond the physical effects of GAD, it can be lonely and isolating. GAD can be treated with medication, therapy and alternative therapies – or a combination of these treatment methods.
A therapist works with you in counseling sessions to discuss ways to manage your anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you skills to manage anxiety and is especially effective for GAD. CBT can be done individually or in a group of people with similar issues.
Anxiety can be treated with or without medication. Your Mercy doctor or behavioral health professional will discuss your options, including the benefits and risks. Medications often used to treat GAD include:
Some people with GAD also benefit from healing therapies used alongside traditional medical care, known as complementary or integrative therapies. Mercy's integrative medicine department focuses on your emotional and spiritual well-being through a variety of therapies. Meditation is especially effective for GAD by helping you clear your mind, calm yourself and feel more at peace.
GAD in children and adolescents is treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication or a combination of both. Antidepressants that increase serotonin levels are commonly used to treat GAD in children. If you’re concerned about your child’s anxiety, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a Mercy behavioral health professional. Working with a care team, you can help your child enjoy a healthier and more active life.
While not a substitute for medical care, other ways to help you cope include relaxation techniques, changing negative thoughts and making positive changes to reduce stress. It’s also important to be socially engaged and take time for healthy self-care. Since drugs and alcohol can contribute to or worsen anxiety, avoiding them will help you enjoy a better quality of life.
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