Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (GAD Was 300.02 now F41.1)

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Anxiety provoking.

Anxiety.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In Generalized Anxiety Disorder, everything is scary.

The key feature of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is that in this disorder the worry-weed just keeps growing. Worry in GAD is all out of proportion. Clients with this problem worry the majority of their time. While you need to have been worrying for at least six months to get this diagnosis, most people with GAD have been worrying far longer. It is common to hear from someone with GAD that they have been worrying all their lives or that they can’t remember a time before they began worrying.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a relatively common disorder despite being very disabling for so many. In any given year here in the U. S., it is estimated 3 million people will receive this diagnosis. Cumulatively this amounts to between 27 and 35 million people who are estimated to be living with GAD.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder can begin at any age but many people first realized they were worriers or over-anxious in childhood or adolescence. There used to be a diagnosis for over-anxious children but that one got merged into the GAD diagnosis. While Generalized Anxiety Disorder can strike at any age and often stays with you, your whole life what people will worry about changes as you age.

Common worry themes in GAD are punctuality, natural disasters, being a victim of crime and the need to do things perfectly and be perfect. With all these worries it is common for someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder to seek reassurance. If they adopt rituals to keep themselves safe it can be a short hop to OCD or a related disorder.

What separates GAD from other anxiety disorders is the length of the list of things you worry about. People with GAD worry about many things most or all the time, not simply a few things occasionally. Someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is frequently apprehensive about what might happen and they tend to expect the worse. The anxiety bully whispers in their ear (figuratively) that something bad is about to happen and over time they come to believe these thoughts.

In GAD it is not that they hear these thoughts, as in an auditory hallucination, but the thoughts can take on a life of their own and they start believing that if they think this thought it must be true. One characteristic of GAD is the loss of control over the worry. It happens whether you want or need to worry or not.

Physical symptoms are very common with mental illnesses. This does not mean things are just “in your head.”  The increase in stress hormones results in physical signs and symptoms in the body. Adults will have at least three of the six symptoms below. Less than 3 probably mean that one or more of the other anxiety disorders would be a better fit for the problem than GAD. Here are the six physical and emotional problems, 3 of which should be present in GAD.

  1. Motor racing – Feeling keyed up or restless.
  2. Tired, worn-out or fatigued for no good reason.
  3. Mind goes blank, can’t focus or concentrate.
  4. Grouchy, irritable.
  5. Muscle tension.
  6. Poor sleep, reduced, disturbed or otherwise disrupted for no discernible reason.

Note that some of these symptoms are combinations of emotional and physical issues. This is why before giving someone a diagnosis a therapist always wants to be sure that you have recently seen a medical doctor and ruled out a medical condition. We also have to ask about drug and alcohol use, not because we want to pry, but because if you are doing drugs, especially stimulants, this may be causing or aggravating the anxiety.

An important consideration, for this to be Generalized Anxiety Disorder, is that the anxiety needs to be way out of proportion to the actual life risks. A significant part of your thinking brain will be used up on worry leaving less to use in actually living life.

Much of the worry in Generalized Anxiety Disorder can be directed towards what you “should be” doing as opposed to what you are actually doing. People with GAD are likely to have exaggerated startle responses. Most of us will jump if a gun goes off close by, or we probably should. Someone with GAD will jump when a car door slams on the next block.

If you or someone you know has symptoms of GAD, seek professional help. There are treatments that can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Is your Anxiety a disease?

By David Joel Miller

Anxiety provoking.

Anxiety.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Some fear is normal, too much is an anxiety disorder.

How can you tell if your fears and anxieties are normal or are they the signs of a more serious mental illness? In everyday language, there is not much difference between fears and anxieties. In technical, mental health terms there are some key differences between fears, anxieties and the times your anxiety symptoms get out of control and get diagnosed as a mental illness.

Of all the mental illness, Anxiety disorders are the most common. In any given year one in five Americans will experience Anxiety so severe it should be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. Prevalence rates around the world are very similar to the U. S. experience. Anxiety disorders are also the ones most likely to be seen by medical doctors as the symptoms often look like symptoms of physical illnesses.

Fear in the mental health sense is a reaction to a thing or situation that cause an immediate reaction. You see something, something happens and you get that feeling you need to do something now. The standard reactions are to freeze, flee or fight.

Say you see a poisonous snake and you become very scared. This sounds rational. But if you are afraid to visit a school because they might have pictures of snakes up in the science classroom, that is excessive and should qualify you for some kind of mental health diagnosis. Which diagnosis? We are not there yet.

Anxiety, the mental health type definition, is a feeling of nervousness or uncomfortable about something that may happen in the future. People with anxiety disorders become so afraid that something will or might happen in the future that they have to alter their present to avoid these possibilities.

People commonly report that they have “Panic attacks” or “Anxiety attacks.” If the thing setting off the anxiety attack is something that has a real potential danger then having fear and freezing, fleeing or fighting might all be reasonable adaptive behaviors. Attacks of a symptom do not always equal a mental illness.

While some anxiety disorders are brief most, to get diagnosed, need to be more than temporary conditions. The criteria for many anxiety disorders it’s that you must have had this anxiety for six months or more. Of course, during that time period, your anxiety may have episodes of getting stronger and other times it may be less troublesome. If it has interfered with your life for 6 months or more you most likely have an anxiety disorder.

Not every case of nervousness or anxiety is the result of having an anxiety disorder. Someone who is depressed and has difficulty doing things they used to do is likely to become anxious. We include that kind of anxiety as part of the depression. Same thing when someone with a psychotic disorder becomes fearful and think people are watching them. That paranoia is part of the psychosis and does not get a separate diagnosis of an anxiety disorder.

What makes this fear diagnosable is when it begins to interfere with or change your behavior or upset you. If you can’t leave the house or work because of your anxiety, that is probably a diagnosable anxiety disorder. If your extreme fearfulness, anxiety or hyper reactiveness start affecting your relationships, that is a probable diagnosis.

There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders depending on what is causing your fear or anxiety. Further complicating this picture is that many people who have anxiety disorders have more than one kind. Having multiple anxiety disorders is considered very common.

Since people with anxiety disorders have by definition “excessive” fear or anxiety it takes an outside observer, usually a therapist to evaluate the risk and see if this person’s fear is reasonable given their situation and their life experiences.

Most anxiety disorders start in childhood, often before the end of middle school. Over time and untreated anxiety disorders get worse. The stats say two of every three people with anxiety disorders are women. I believe this is partly cultural. Boys and men are taught to approach what they fear. Attack it. Women are supposed to get away. This results in anxious men becoming more violent or using a substance to cover up their anxiety and as a result, they get a behavioral or substance use diagnosis.

Physical sensations may be symptoms of anxiety.

Different people experience anxiety differently. Anxiety symptoms are frequently physical and many people interpret their anxiety symptoms as a physical illness.

If you experience an anxiety attack you may feel dizzy or light-headed. You may feel disoriented, have difficulty breathing or swallowing. The heart may race, you might sweat or tremble all over.  Despite the feeling you want to run your legs could become rubbery or jelly-like.

Some people experience gastrointestinal symptoms, constipation, diarrhea, nausea or feeling like you may vomit. Sleep disturbances, mind racing, and confused thoughts can result in Anxiety disorders getting confused with Bipolar Disorder and other mental illnesses.

Here is the most recent list of recognized Anxiety Disorders. These are necessarily brief, general descriptions of the disorders in plain language. For the specific criteria consult the relevant edition of the DSM.  For more on each separate disorder look for the articles I have written on specific disorders. I plan to write more of these posts on specific anxiety disorders in the future.

You will find the link to other articles on anxiety below.

Separation Anxiety Disorder.

This disorder customarily starts early in life. The child is afraid to leave or be away from a caregiver. They may think that something bad will happen to them or the caregiver if they are separated. We used to think of this mostly as a disorder of children and that they should “grow out of it.” We are starting to think that you can have this at any point in your life and that many clingy needy adults had this and or an attachment disorder since childhood.

Selective Mutism.

Someone who speaks normally at home but is afraid to or refuses to speak when in public or around strangers fits the description of Selective Mutism. The criteria for this disorder does not imply that the child is being poorly behaved but just that they are so afraid they can’t speak around strangers. The result is poor grades or school failure. As they get older this may lessen but again there are adults who just avoid speaking around strangers as much as possible.

Specific Phobia.

Spiders and snakes, blood, heights or flying can all be objects of a specific phobia. With Specific Phobia we can point to things or situations that are the cause of the anxiety. People with specific phobias often had fears of several things or situations and may have other anxiety disorders as well.

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia).

In this disorder the anxious person is afraid of social situations where others may watch them, evaluate them or otherwise form an opinion about them. The fear here is about doing something “wrong” or being judged. This is about having your peer’s think poorly of you, what you wear or how you do things. In severe cases, people avoid eating in public or going to social gatherings.

Panic Disorder.

A Panic disorder involves many of the physical symptoms we talked about above. The person having the panic attack may have shortness of breath or chest pain and think they are having a heart attack. Having had one attack people become afraid to leave the house for fear they will have another and not be able to get help in time.

Agoraphobia.

Agoraphobia translates as “fear of the marketplace” mostly this involves crowded situations. Fear of buses, standing in lines, crowded places, stores, and similar situations. In severe cases, the person becomes unable to leave the house to go shopping and either needs someone to go with them or just go at times the store will be very empty.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

This involves being over-anxious all the time. A person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder is anxious all the time about most anything. There may be real life causes for this anxiety, like living through a war or being assaulted or harmed. The professional has to look carefully to separate this from PTSD or other Trauma and Stressor-related disorders.

There are also diagnoses for anxiety problems caused by drugs, medications, medical conditions or other factors.

For more on Anxiety, treatments for anxiety and related issues see:

counselorssoapbox.com Anxiety Post list.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.