Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health condition characterized by excessive, unrealistic worries. People with GAD can become trapped in a cycle of fear and dread out of proportion to the situation. Eventually, anxiety can take over your thoughts until it upends your daily routine and disrupts your overall quality of life.

Some researchers have hypothesized that anxiety served a crucial evolutionary purpose by keeping early humans alert and aware of potential threats. In a way, anxiety is your brain’s way of preparing you for the worst, which is why many people get anxious before major life events like a job interview. However, without treatment, your anxiety can spiral out of control to a point where all your thoughts are irrationally negative.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Causes and Symptoms

No single factor is solely responsible for causing your elevated anxiety levels and harmful thought processes. Instead, people develop mental illnesses due to a constellation of variables such as their genetics, brain function, personality, environment, upbringing and life choices such as alcohol and drug use.

In addition to affecting your thought processes, GAD can cause an array of mental, emotional and physical symptoms, including:

  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent anxiety or panic attacks
  • Agitation, irritability and restlessness
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • An elevated heart rate
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks

GAD often co-occurs with other mental health conditions, like PTSD, social anxiety disorder, clinical depression, phobias or substance use issues. The presence of a dual diagnosis can make it more challenging for a health professional to accurately assess your condition and create an appropriate treatment strategy. However, you can and should take steps to learn how to get your anxiety under control.

How to Receive a GAD Diagnosis

If your anxiety symptoms have interfered with your daily life for at least six months, schedule an appointment with your general practitioner. Your doctor will ask you questions about your health history and may also order some basic screenings, like a blood test. Lab tests don’t diagnose anxiety disorders, but your results can help rule out the presence of any physical illness that might be elevating your anxiety levels.

If your physician suspects you have GAD, they may suggest you try a prescription drug to help manage your symptoms. You can also ask for a referral to a mental health professional who specializes in treating anxiety disorders.

Effective GAD Treatment Strategies

Often, a combination of medication and talk therapy proves successful at treating generalized anxiety disorder and helping you get your life back under control. You may also want to try making some specific lifestyle changes.

  • Exercise more: Getting physically active can help you work off some of the nervous energy that tends to accompany anxiety. After a workout, your body will also release endorphins that naturally boost your mood.
  • Incorporate outdoor activities: Vitamin D plays an essential role in many functions, including mood regulation. With exposure to sunlight, your body makes vitamin D on its own. The sensory experience of being outside is also relaxing.
  • Mindfulness: The idea of sitting quietly and focusing on your breathwork may sound dreadful if intrusive thoughts are one of your anxiety symptoms. Instead of meditating, try incorporating more mindfulness into daily activities like eating and doing chores.
  • Try a new hobby: Learning new things can occupy your restless brain and direct your focus away from your anxiety triggers.
  • Change your diet: Anxious people are usually better off avoiding caffeinated products and sugary, overly processed foods. Switch to decaf coffee and tea, and choose a balanced diet full of fresh produce, whole grains and lean protein sources.
  • Practice healthy sleep hygiene: Getting a full night of restful sleep can do wonders for your overall health.
  • Do a digital detox: The world is an endless source of frightening, upsetting news that’s available 24/7 through your smartphone. Put your device on airplane mode to disable incoming alerts, and stow it in a drawer to avoid the temptation to check it multiple times per day.

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