Stress can create sleepless nights, changes in eating patterns and anxiety. But sometimes it gets out of control. When you startle easily and can’t relax or concentrate, day in and day out, for at least six months, you might be dealing with generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. The condition, which is marked by a state of chronic anxiety, exaggerated worry and tension—even when little or nothing provokes it—may come on gradually. GAD is caused by a disturbance of chemicals in the brain and it can get worse during stressful times. The sooner you seek treatment, the better. Left untreated, GAD can grow worse and even become debilitating.The mind-body link
GAD doesn’t only affect your mind. You might experience sleep difficulties, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, light-headedness and feeling out of breath. Some sufferers can socialize and hold down a job but others may be unable to.
See your healthcare provider if:
- You find it impossible to clear your mind of fear and worries.
- You’ve lost control of your ability to rein in your emotions.
- Anxiety is keeping you from taking care of responsibilities.
GAD can be treated with:
- Medication. Anti-anxiety medicines, such as Xanax or Valium, start working in just 30 to 90 minutes. But they can be habit-forming, and you can’t drive while taking them. Buspirone, another anti-anxiety drug, may take several weeks to work, but it isn’t sedating or addictive.
Antidepressants may also help. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac and Paxil can take a few weeks to work but aren’t considered habit-forming.
- Talk therapy. Talking about your problems can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you to identify unhealthy thoughts that create anxiety and replace them with positive ones.
- Relaxation techniques. Practice deep breathing and yoga to reduce stress and calm you.
Sometimes, a combination of therapies is needed. If you’re worried all the time, don’t wait to get help—and get your life back.