The primary symptom of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is what psychiatrists sometimes refer to as “free floating anxiety.” This is excessive worry about many different things that is present most of the time and whose focus may shift from moment to moment. People with GAD find that they have great difficulty controlling their worry and often experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- poor concentration
- muscle tension
Some people are more anxious than others, but individuals suffering from GAD have either significant distress or impairment in their day to day functioning due to their anxiety. To be diagnosed with GAD, these symptoms must be present for at least 6 months and not be part of another psychiatric disorder like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or depression which can have some similar symptoms.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment
Generalized Anxiety Disorder can be treated with psychotherapy, medications, or both. Like most anxiety disorder, GAD responds very well to a type of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) that emphasizes the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The efficacy of CBT for GAD has been shown in numerous studies and CBT has more evidence supporting its effectiveness for anxiety disorders than any other type of therapy. That is why the psychiatrists and psychologists of Anxiety.org developed myAnxietyApp, a CBT-based self help module that you can use for free on this site. myAnxietyApp uses information you provide it to create a custom treatment program focused on your specific symptoms.
Medications for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
There are several different classes of medications that are used to treat GAD, but the most commonly used class is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs work by increasing the amount of serotonin in the space between neurons called a synapse. For unknown reasons, increasing serotonin in this region results in a reduction of anxiety. Medications in the SSRI class include fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), paroxetine (Paxil), and fluvoxamine (Luvox). SSRIs reduce anxiety gradually and usually require 6 to 8 weeks to reach full effect.
Another class of medications used to treat anxiety is benzodiazepines. This class includes medications such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax). Benzodiazepines are very effective and, unlike SSRIs, begin to work immediately. The drawback to benzodiazepines is that there is a risk of developing an addiction to them and, because the body develops a tolerance to these medications, there is an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous withdrawal that can occur if these medications are stopped abruptly.