Everyone feels anxious or worried at times, especially around stressful events. Feeling very anxious or constantly worried without stress may be Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). With GAD, there is usually unrealistic worrying and anxiety. Symptoms include irritability, trouble with concentration, restlessness, a constant feeling of being keyed-up, loss of patience, feeling short of breath, overall muscle tension, increased sweating, difficulty sleeping, trouble swallowing, or a lump-in-the throat feeling. Heartburn, acid reflux, or diarrhea are also often present with GAD. Headache and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are also commonly seen.
GAD may cycle throughout people’s lives, and is certainly worse with stress. There is almost always a family history of anxiety, and it usually begins in childhood. Other anxiety disorders that may occur in children or adolescents are Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Separation Anxiety, and Panic Disorder. As with depression, there are differences in the brain and nervous system of people with anxiety. Certain neurochemicals or transmitters show changes. Genetics has a major role in these disorders, which have as much of a physical component as asthma, headaches or diabetes. The amygdala, a small, walnut-shaped portion of the limbic system is larger in those with anxiety. Certainly, stressful events can trigger anxiety, but most people with GAD have inherited physical and chemical differences in their brains.
Anxiety is eminently treatable with exercise, relaxation techniques, psychotherapy and medication. While it inconvenient and expensive to go to a psychotherapist on a regular basis, it is very helpful in treating anxiety over the long run.