By Elaine Ryan
Signs and Symptoms of GAD
Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD is different from other anxiety disorders in that the person experiences anxiety and worry in relation to a variety of situations. In other disorders, the anxiety may be in relation to something specific, such as phobias, or anxiety in social situations, such as social anxiety. If you have GAD, you experience worry, nervousness, dread and the symptoms of anxiety, in practically all situations, with no apparent trigger.
What is GAD?
I find it helpful to think of GAD in terms of what we do, how we behave and how we think. In other words, it has “thought part” and a “behavioral part” (what we do and what we do not do.)
The thought part.
Worry is a big part of this. Constant worry about non-specific things. Once we have finished worry about something, we find something else to worry about. We do not do this on purpose, is it seems almost out of our control, as if it is just how we are. We can however, may various mistakes in out thinking and misinterpret some information or situations, which leads us to worry more or feel more anxiety. You can read more about the effect our thoughts have on anxiety, here.
The behavioral part.
Although we do not mean to, we teach our brain to be anxious or afraid of certain things. Some things we have a natural built in fear response. For example, if we see a snake or something else which might harm us, it is appropriate to feel some fear as this means that we approach the snake with caution until we can decide whether or not it is dangerous. This is a good, adaptive fear response for us, as it keeps us safe.
We can get the same response when it is not really necessary though. We can feel anxious as we worry too much, or have a general feeling of anxiety constantly. Our brain matches up things that should cause some level of anxiety, like the snake example above. This means, if we see something that sort of looks like a snake we feel anxious. If we feel enough anxiety in different situations we can teach our brain, so to speak, to match the anxiety with what we are doing. For example, if we wake up in the morning and start to worry about the day ahead, it will become second nature to wake up anxious and start to worry. Although, we do not mean to, we teach our brain to hard wire that response for us. We can “unlearn” this though!
We worry about what “might happen.” Going over all possible bad outcomes.
Behaviors: What we do to keep ourselves anxious. We avoid things that make us anxious as this helps in the short term, but increases the anxiety long term. How? We are laying more foundations for our brain to see the things that we are avoiding as anxiety provoking situations. If while lying in bed, we habitually use that time to go through our day or worry about things that may our may not happen this may cause more anxiety. This in turn affects our behavior, what we are doing – we are not able to get to sleep.
These thoughts and behaviors cause anxiety symptoms in the body and once the thoughts, behaviors and symptoms combine, they affect your ability to sleep, the quality of your sleep and your ability to to function during the day.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a highly treatable condition.
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