Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Treatment

  • Treatment

    Hospitalization is rare for GAD alone. However, if you or someone close to you has suicidal thoughts, delusions, or difficulty providing self-care, seek medical help immediately. GAD often occurs in tandem with other psychological disorders, some of which alone or in combination can cause suicidal intent or a desire to inflict harm on oneself. In such cases, emergency intervention is necessary.

    Maintain a balanced lifestyle that includes socializing, exercise, work, and recreation. Some people with debilitating anxiety isolate themselves from outside people and activities, which can worsen symptoms. Getting adequate exercise and nutrition, spending time with friends, and having gratifying work can help to stabilize feelings of anxiety in someone with GAD.

    Your doctor is the best source of information on the drug treatment choices available to you.

    Psychotherapy for GAD includes insight-oriented psychotherapy and behavioral techniques such as relaxation. While drugs can ameliorate the symptoms of GAD, psychotherapy can help address the underlying issues behind the symptoms, and teach patients how to cope with them.

    A therapist will listen without judging, help identify situations that trigger anxiety, and suggest ways to prevent anxiety and deal with it when it arises. By exploring feelings and actions, patients often develop insights into their emotions, and are able to lower their anxiety levels.

    Behavioral techniques can be used to modify responses to anxiety-producing stimuli. Deep muscle relaxation helps make patients aware of tension in their bodies.This is done while sitting upright in a chair with the hands resting in the lap. Each muscle — beginning with the forehead and working down to the thighs — is tensed for 15 seconds, and is then slowly released.

    Another relaxation technique that can be used involves deep breathing. While sitting or lying down, breathe in slowly. The chest and stomach should both expand outward. The breath should be held for a second or two, and then exhaled slowly in a controlled manner. Deep breathing has a calming affect, and can be used to avert anxiety.

    Certain herbs may be helpful for quelling anxiety. Discuss herbal medicines with your doctor before you take them. European research suggests that the herb kava may be as good as prescription drugs for treating anxiety. In some studies, patients experienced lower anxiety levels after seven days of taking kava. No side effects were reported after six months of use.

    Valerian, a well-known herbal sleep aid, also appears to have a calming effect. It seems to influence brain receptors for GABA. At normal doses, there are no dangerous side effects.

    Avoid St. John’s wort if you are taking prescription medication for GAD.

    People with GAD are likely to have substance abuse problems (particularly with alcohol), be depressed or demoralized, or be hypochondriacal. People with GAD often become dependent on alcohol or other substances as a result of trying to self-medicate. Others become hypochondriacal as they struggle to find an explanation for their anxiety.

    Many GAD patients have additional mental illnesses. More than 80% of people with GAD suffer from major depression, dysthymia, or another anxiety disorder, such as social phobia.

    Generalized anxiety disorder can be overcome in a few months if the patient is motivated to work toward his or her recovery. With proper treatment — which may involve medication, psychotherapy, or both — the majority of people with anxiety disorders improve.

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I'm Shereen A. Gharbia, PharmD. Welcome to PDR Health!

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