Patient education: Generalized anxiety disorder (The Basics)
Written by the doctors and editors at UpToDate
How do you know when anxiety is a medical problem?
— Everyone feels anxious or nervous once in a while. That is normal. But being extremely anxious or worried on most days for 6 months or longer is not normal. This is called “generalized anxiety disorder.” The disorder can make it hard to do everyday tasks.
Generalized anxiety disorder is just one anxiety disorder. There are others, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. This article focuses on generalized anxiety disorder.
What are the symptoms of extreme or severe anxiety?
— People with extreme or severe anxiety feel very worried or “on edge” much of the time. They can have trouble sleeping or forget things. Plus, they can have physical symptoms. For instance, people with severe anxiety often feel very tired and have tense muscles. Some even get stomach aches or feel chest “tightness.”
Should I see a doctor? — See your doctor if you:
●Are more anxious than you think is normal
●Get overly anxious about things that other people handle more easily
Your doctor can ask you questions that are designed to “measure” a person’s anxiety level. If you do have a problem with anxiety, there are different treatments that can help.
Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes.
Exercise can help many people feel less anxious. It’s also a good idea to cut down on or stop drinking coffee and other sources of caffeine. Caffeine can make anxiety worse.
How is anxiety treated?
— Treatments include:
●Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy involves meeting with a mental health counselor to talk about your feelings, relationships, and worries. Therapy can help you find new ways of thinking about your situation so that you feel less anxious. In therapy, you might also learn new skills to reduce anxiety.
●Medicines – Medicines used to treat depression can relieve anxiety, too, even in people who are not depressed. Your doctor will decide which medicines are best for your situation.
Some people have psychotherapy and take medicines at the same time.
There is no reason to feel embarrassed about getting treatment for anxiety. Anxiety is a common problem. It affects all kinds of people.
Keep in mind that it might take a little while to find the right treatment. People respond in different ways to medicines and therapy, so you might need to try a few approaches before you find the one that helps you most. The key is to not give up and to let your doctor know how you feel along the way.
Are there herbal treatments I can take?
— Makers of herbal drugs sometimes claim that their products relieve anxiety. For example, herbs called kava kava and valerian are sold as treatments for anxiety. But there is no evidence that these treatments work. What’s more, kava kava has been linked with serious liver damage. It might not be safe.
What if I want to get pregnant?
— If you take medicines to treat anxiety, speak to your doctor before you start trying to get pregnant. Some of the medicines used to treat anxiety can cause problems for babies, so you might need to switch medicines before you get pregnant.
What will my life be like?
— People with anxiety disorders often have to deal with some anxiety for the rest of their life. For some, anxiety comes and goes, but gets bad during times of stress. The good news is, many people find effective treatments or ways to deal with their anxiety.