Generalized Anxiety Disorder (or GAD), despite the word “generalized” in its name, is not about common anxieties. It is a mental disorder belonging to Anxiety Disorders, which also includes other disorders that are characterized by the presence of fear and anxiety, such as Agoraphobia, Social Anxiety Disorder, etc.
Fear and anxiety are common emotions. We experience fear when we perceive ourselves to be in danger or when we are threatened (be it real or imagined). And we feel anxious when we feel that something threatening is going to happen to us in the future. In short, fear is about the present, while anxiety is about the future, foreboding, just there in the distance.
Anxiety vs. Anxiety
It’s normal to hate feeling scared, afraid, anxious. These are emotions that are generally perceived to be negative because they make us feel vulnerable and weak. But like any other emotion, they serve a function.
Imagine this scenario: you are driving a car, suddenly, up ahead at the junction a car swerves out. What would you feel? Probably shock, and then fear. So you would probably react accordingly, either you hit the brakes and hope for the best, or you just go numb from shock and bump into the car. Either way, fear serves to warn you, so that you can react to a threatening situation. And anxiety would then serve to remind you so that you can avoid similar situations in the future.
But what would you do if you DON’T feel fear or anxiety? In that situation, you wouldn’t care, you wouldn’t even react in time, because you didn’t have that emotion.
So it’s normal to feel fear or anxiety, despite the fact that it doesn’t feel good. But when your fear or anxiety is blown out of proportion, when it is ever-present, never going away, when it cripples you in the long run, then you might consider seeking help, or any mental health support.
What is GAD?
GAD is primarily characterized by excessive amounts of anxiety or worry, and this must be present for at least six months for almost every day.
This means that you are worrying even when nothing has gone wrong, or that your worry is disproportionate to the source of worry (e.g.: you are so worried about people not liking you, that you cannot sleep). This worry will also shift from one topic to another, and the content of worry will also vary according to your present age, gender, etc (employees will worry about work performance, while students worry about academic performance, etc.).
Another sign is that you find this worry or anxiety very difficult to control. Even when you have consulted others, and have already gained reassurance from them, you still feel worried or anxious anyways, that’s how persistent it is.
According to the DSM-5, a person must also fit at least three or more of the following six symptoms in order to be diagnosed with GAD:
- Feeling on edge, restless
- You are easily tired and fatigued
- You find it difficult to concentrate, feeling blanked out
- You are irritable
- Your muscles felt tense
- You have problems when it comes to sleep
Most importantly, these fears and anxieties must cause you significant negative impact in your daily life, impairing your abilities to work, or function in a social setting.
(Don’t self-diagnose according to the list we provided. If you suspect you have this condition, then do seek out professional advice from qualified clinical psychologists near you.)
Treatment for GAD
Depending on the severity of a case, treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder may include medication, psychotherapy, or both. Medication, when combined with psychotherapy, is shown by research to be more effective than when used alone.
The goal of treatment is to make an individual more able to function on a day-to-day basis. Where previously he/she felt paralyzed by his/her fears, anxieties, and worries, they can now be able to engage in their lives more fully.
And what was once a constant alarm piercing your ears, now glimmers of tranquility, and slivers of serenity.
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