Stress or Anxiety is the body’s natural reaction to perceived threat or danger. This “fight or flight” response is initiated by a hormone called adrenaline and is actually a protective mechanism helping to keep a person safe from danger. Anxiety is something everyone experiences from time to time but if the response is exaggerated or pervasive, it can be debilitating and affect a person’s quality of life. Anxiety disorders includes post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorders, social and other phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, and others. The age of onset can start anytime from childhood to adulthood.
What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
This is a disorder of uncontrolled worrying and a constant feeling of extreme anxiety. These symptoms are suffered on most days of the month for a prolonged period of time, normally 6 months or more. Rather than being afraid of a specific circumstance or object, patients with generalized anxiety disorder fear numerous routine everyday themes. It can be triggered by a certain stressful life event, although evidence suggests there is a genetic predisposition and there may be a history of anxiety disorders in the family. Symptoms can be mental, physical or social. These include, but are not limited to:
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling constantly worried about life or feeling “on edge”
- Pessimistic thinking
- Getting unnecessarily upset over small issues
- Requiring constant reassurance from others
- Physical manifestations such as headaches, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, stomach aches, excessive sweating and muscle cramps
When Does Anxiety Become A Medical Concern?
Once a person experiences the anxiety symptoms above such that their daily activities or relationships are disrupted, medical advice should be sought. Although there is no laboratory exam to diagnose Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a doctor will need to perform a physical examination and may order other blood tests to rule out any underlying diseases (hyperthyroidism) which may be causing or contributing to the symptoms.
Many people are afraid of the social stigma associated with seeing a mental health professional. This is unfortunate because, in reality, mental health professionals have many tools at their disposal that can substantially help the quality of life for these people.
Treatments Available for General Anxiety Disorder
There are a number of different ways of tackling this disorder. The patient is the key to the treatment and there are many steps they can take to help themselves even before seeing a doctor. Some of these self-help action steps are:
- Taking part in regular exercise. Regular exercise releases chemicals known as endorphins that can help someone think more positively.
- Limiting their caffeine intake
- Learning breathing and other meditation techniques
- Getting out into nature
- Educate yourself about the condition online or otherwise
- Join a support group
- Talking to a trusted friend or family member who will listen to him or her and give impartial advice
Psychological treatment in the form of mental health counseling, in which a person’s feelings, relationships, and worries are examined, has proven to be very helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy also is useful especially if there are components of phobias or post-traumatic stress. Here, a psychologist or psychiatrist looks for ways that to adapt dysfunctional thought patterns. Psychological treatment can also help equip a patient with the skills they need to deal with a recurrence of the anxiety should they need it.
Medications are a powerful adjunctive treatment to counseling. Medications can target specific neurotransmitters used in the specific pathways that act on brain in causing anxiety. One example of these drugs includes buspirone, which belong to a group of drugs known as anxiolytics or anti-anxiety medications. Another class of drugs is known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI). These medications act to ultimately increase the amount of serotonin acting in the blood. Serotonin is nature’s mood controlling hormone. Certain other antidepressants and sedatives may also be used in combination. Your doctor or nurse will decide which medicines are best for your situation.
Sedative medications are only useful for the acute phase and for a short time because they can become addictive and are associated with side effects. It is also important to note that some of the medications may be harmful to babies and advice should be sought when tailoring medication in pregnant women.
Keep in mind that it might take a little while to find the right treatment. People respond in different ways to medicines and therapy, so you might need to try a few approaches before you find the one that helps you most. The key is to not give up and to let your doctor or nurse know how you feel along the way.
Some people have tried using herbal medication to help ease their symptoms. Herbs like kava kava, valerian, chamomile and lavender are marketed for anxiety, but there is no clear medical research to show that these work effectively. In addition, there are some studies to suggest some herbal medications may actually cause liver damage. Herbal medications may interact with traditional medications for anxiety and should be disclosed when consulting a doctor.
There is no reason to feel embarrassed about getting treatment for anxiety. Anxiety is a common problem. It affects all kinds of people. Always keep in mind that it might take a little while to find the right treatment. People respond in different ways to medicines and therapy, so you might need to try a few approaches before you find the one that helps you most. The key is to not give up and to let your doctor or nurse know how you feel along the way.