Jourdan Travers, LCSW, explains Generalized Anxiety Disorder and how to treat it.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | January 19, 2022

Welcome! In this article, I'll be talking about anxiety — what it means, how to know if you have it, when anxiety becomes problematic, the diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and what you can do to help mitigate your anxious symptoms.

Maybe you've been stressed or felt uneasy about things happening in both your personal and professional life that felt outside of the normal range. Maybe you've told yourself, "This is FINE," or "This is Normal." But, as time goes on, those feelings of uneasiness haven't gone away — in fact, they've stayed or have increased.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Let's start with the basics of explaining what Generalized Anxiety Disorder, also known as GAD, is and how it's different from a normal, anxiety-producing experience. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is when:

  • We worry uncontrollably about a variety of things,or when we're worrying and can't identify the source of what's causing us to worry for a period of six months or more.

Examples of things people with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experience include:

  • Increased startle response
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Physical issues related to anxiety (upset stomach, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, trouble sleeping and concentrating)
  • And an inability to relax

Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

So, what causes GAD? Well, it goes back to that whole nature/nurture thing we learned about in school and that I've discussed in other articles like those on Borderline Personality Disorder and Social Anxiety. I like to say that there are a lot of little stones thrown at us before the big boulder comes crashing down. What I mean is that there is probably a variety of seemingly small factors that have compounded over time, which is causing or contributing to your anxiety. Things like:

  • A family history of anxiety
  • Recent or prolonged exposure to stressful events
  • Health concerns like a thyroid issue
  • A hostile work or school environment
  • Childhood abuse or bullying
  • And consuming too much caffeine and nicotine, which has been shown to increase our feeling of anxiety due to how those substances interact with our nervous system.

GAD diagnosis and treatment

You might be saying to yourself, "Okay, I'm definitely experiencing those symptoms, so how do I go about getting a diagnosis and getting treatment?"

You can talk to either a mental health professional like me, OR you could talk about your concerns with your Primary Care Physician or, for women, your Gynecologist. Typically, treatment is a two-part approach that includes medication to help manage the severity of your anxiety symptoms and therapy to learn coping skills and to process the underlying causes of your anxiety.

In fact, Generalized Anxiety Disorder has been shown to respond well to this therapeutic approach, especially when using therapeutic interventions like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, which works by helping patients identify and challenge anxious thoughts and learning positive, pro-social behaviors and coping skills that help patients calm themselves.

A two-part approach is necessary because only MD's can prescribe medications while mental health professionals like therapists, counselors, and psychologists will work with patients on developing effective behavioral strategies.

Having a doctor that you can trut, and feel comfortable speaking openly and honestly is HUGELY important because, unlike depression, where psychiatrists typically prescribe SSRI's, anxiety is different in that it sometimes needs more than just an SSRI — sometimes it needs a class of drugs known as Benzodiazepines to treat the symptoms.

One of the downsides of Benzodiazepines is that they can be highly addictive, and have been shown to increase our anxiety when we stop taking them or lessen our dosage.

I'm not a psychiatrist, but one other thing I will say other than the fact that they're addictive is that you ABSOLUTELY should NOT drink alcohol while taking Benzodiazepines because that can kill you. Psychiatrists often prescribe SSRIs for daily management and Benzodiazepines on a limited, as-needed basis.

As a therapist, I can tell you that other factors that have been shown to mitigate anxiety symptoms and improve our overall well-being include:

  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Focusing on establishing a sleep routine and averaging 7-9 hours of sleep each night
  • Exercising daily
  • Increasing our face-to-face interactions
  • And limiting things like caffeine and tobacco

Thank you for reading. I hope you found this article helpful and informative. Remember, resources like these are a great place to learn about mental health topics; however, they should not take the place of individualized psychotherapy. If you're in need of mental health assistance, whether to talk through an existing issue or to create a more prosperous and fulfilling life, you can book an initial consultation by clicking here.