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Beyond Nervous: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Everyone knows the feeling of fear. This emotion is a completely natural reaction to possible danger. Fear is useful because it keeps us from being harmed, by avoiding such situations or helping us defend ourselves. This protective element has been necessary for survival. If our ancestors didn’t feel fear when they saw a dangerous animal, they likely would have been killed. The reaction to fearful stimulus is one of fight or flight, and even today fear discourages us from engaging in too much risk.

Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives or feel nervous in anticipation of certain situations. However, if a person cannot handle unwarranted worries or if the feelings cause a person to avoid everyday activities, he/she most likely has an anxiety disorder.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

It is a condition in which people experience a constant high state of anxiety, which does not seem to be attributed to any particular cause. Sufferers feel they are anxious about everything and have expectations of catastrophe or disaster. The worry a person experiences is extremely out of proportion to the risk. Sufferers are unable to calm themselves down and think rationally. In extreme cases, a sufferer can become completely overwhelmed and suffer panic attacks.

If you are constantly anxious, your body is always in “fight or flight” mode. The body produces chemicals like adrenaline and noradrenaline to help us respond to the stimuli or run away. Someone suffering from GAD is unconsciously (and continually) triggering the body’s stress response even though there is no dangerous situation.

What causes GAD?

The exact causes of GAD are not fully understood, but research suggests there may be several factors which contribute to its development. It is complex to say exactly why one person develops GAD, but several areas have been identified as relevant, especially by studies of the brain which show how people process emotion. Genetics and family history play a part, with 40% of people with GAD having close relatives with the disorder. But, it’s also the case that there may be some element of anxiety being “learned” from growing up with anxious role models and unconsciously internalizing their responses and behavior.

Environmental factors and circumstances, such as divorce, bereavement, personal or family illness, and other types of trauma, may trigger GAD. Studies also suggest that caffeine, drugs, alcohol and nicotine can cause symptoms of anxiety or make existing symptoms worse. There are a host of other influences in everyday life which can contribute too, such as diet and pollution.

Treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be very effective in the treatment of GAD. This therapy helps you understand how your thoughts, feeling, problems and behaviors work together and influence each other. CBT works on identifying patterns of anxious or negative thoughts and then learning how to change or replace them with more realistic thinking.

Relaxation methods such as deep breathing and meditation can help patients manage anxiety. Medication is also helpful in some cases. Studies have shown positive results when combining medication and CBT for treatment of anxiety. The most common medications for GAD are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which increase the level of serotonin in the brain. It is important to get an assessment from a professional to discuss treatment options. A psychologist can refer to a psychiatrist/MD for assistance with medication solutions.

Treatment for anxiety is highly effective. If you are concerned about feelings of anxiety or worried about a loved one, contact Body & Soul to make an appointment.

Petra is a German speaking psychologist, who combines parts of the cognitive behavior therapy with elements of positive psychology. She is specialized in treating anxiety disorders and social anxiety. She conducts several relaxation techniques (autogenous training, progressive muscle relaxation and body scan. She helps her patients learn how to recognize the root and causes of stress, while simultaneously develop strategies and resources to better deal with difficult situations in their daily lives.

By Petra Albrecht

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