Collectively, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses among adults in the U.S. They account for about 18% of the adult population.
Today I’m going to be focusing specifically on Generalized Anxiety Disorder (abbreviated GAD). If you’ve never heard of GAD, here’s a brief rundown.
To be diagnosed with GAD, you have to:
- be worried about things you know shouldn’t worry you as much as they do
- worry more days than not for 6+ months
- you can’t control it, or it takes an absurd amount of energy to control it
- you regularly feel three of these:
- on edge or restless
- easily tired
- unable to concentrate
- unable to think (mind goes blank)
- tense in your body
- unable to sleep well
- your constant worry makes it difficult for you to do some or most of your day-to-day activities
- your worry isn’t from another diagnosis or drugs
If you think you might have GAD, consult a medical and/or psychiatric professional.
Types of Anxiety
There are two types of anxiety: “normal” anxiety, and “abnormal” anxiety.
Normal anxiety is when you have a real reason to be worried: car accident, a family member’s health condition, a test, financial stress, etc. Everyone has normal anxiety.
Abnormal anxiety is when you’re reaction is way off from what it should be. For example, you’re running late to work, but your level of worry is the same as if you just got fired. These things are very different.
People with GAD experience both types of anxiety.
Basically, GAD is having your survival response (fight, flight, or freeze) triggered when it shouldn’t be. Another way to look at it is you think you’re in danger when you’re not. When you’re in a frightening situation (car accident, roller coaster, haunted house, etc.), this is a good response to have. When you’re late to work, this is a very bad response to have. And it happens for no real reason.
GAD is basically living as Chicken Little: you feel like the sky is falling but really it’s just another Thursday.
People experience anxiety differently. Some people experience headaches, nausea, gastrointestinal problems, racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking/trembling, and more. You can have all of these, some of these, or none of these. I personally experience nausea, gastrointestinal problems, racing heartbeat, and shaking.
People with GAD aren’t always anxious, but they’re anxious more than they’re not. Like depression, it’s not very predictable, and it cannot be willed away. People with GAD would definitely love to be less anxious. I know I would.
Medication can be extremely helpful with managing anxiety. There are many different types of medications, as well. Most people associate taking Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan with managing anxiety in the moment, but did you know there are other medications you can take? There are medications you take everyday that help you, too. I take medication every day and it’s been amazing.
As always, medication isn’t the only way to manage and treat GAD. Therapy can be helpful. Eating right and exercising is also helpful. Avoid caffeine (sorry coffee lovers!) because it mimics and exacerbates the symptoms. As always, having a good support system is helpful. Mindfulness practices (meditation, yoga, etc.), particularly deep breathing, are incredible coping skills to manage GAD.
Fun Fact: Deep breathing is the most effective way to manage anxiety in the moment.
- Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with GAD.
- Headaches, IBS, and Major Depressive Disorder are common co-occurring disorders for people with GAD.
- Approximately 3.1% of U.S. adults, or 6.8 million people, have a GAD diagnosis.
- Most people with anxiety report feeling anxious their entire lives
- People are most commonly diagnosed in in their 30s.
- Only 1/3 of people with anxiety disorders seek treatment.
- 1 in 8 children have an anxiety disorder.
- Untreated anxiety can result in substance abuse.
- There is no known cause for GAD.
- Anxiety is highly treatable.
Where did you learn about anxiety? Was it accurate?