By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on March 19, 2010
In today’s world, stress is intense. And, while a little worry is normal, people who constantly worry about daily concerns may have a medical condition.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry that lasts at least six months. More common in older adults, GAD typically starts during middle age and affects an estimated 4 to 7 percent of adults age 65 and older. It often goes hand in hand with depression or other anxiety disorders, such as phobias.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s believed that people with GAD have abnormal levels of brain chemicals that affect the response to stressful or uncertain situations.
This overactive fear circuitry in the brain can cause a person to view many situations, even harmless ones, as threats.
Other signs and symptoms of GAD include irritability; inability to relax; difficulty concentrating; muscle aches and headaches; trouble falling or staying asleep; gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea; trembling or twitching; sweating, lightheadedness or shortness of breath.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on identifying and changing the thinking patterns that reinforce anxiety or reactions to stressful situations. Short-term treatment usually lasts about 12 weeks.
Several categories of medications can effectively treat anxiety. Some medications may not be fully effective for up to two months. Often, medications are used in combination with cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Antidepressants considered for GAD treatment include venlafaxine (Effexor), duloxetine (Cymbalta), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa) and escitalopram (Lexapro). The anti-anxiety medication buspirone (BuSpar) can be effective for GAD and can be taken with antidepressants.
Other medications, called benzodiazepines, may be prescribed for short periods. Options include clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan) and alprazolam (Xanax).
Exercise can also combat anxiety by producing chemical changes that calm the body. Meditation, yoga, music and massages promote relaxation and can ease anxiety. Healthy eating, with regular meals and energy-boosting snacks, is helpful, as is avoiding caffeine and nicotine.