Updated: Sep 4
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Fear is a powerful and complex emotion that each one of us has grappled with at some point in our lives. Fear in itself is not always unnecessary. In caveman times, a fear of perceived danger allowed us to survive as a species. Fear gave us the ability to protect each other from harm, and strengthened us to know how to handle future threats. In short, fear served a valuable purpose in helping us to evolve and grow as a community.
The problem with fear is not when we used it to defeat a saber tooth tiger 30 million years ago, or a burglar at our front door in this millennium, but when we perceive fear everywhere in our daily lives. When fear becomes the controlling factor in the decisions we make and the relationships we choose to be in, we should recognize that fear has outlived its purpose. When fear has started to interfere with our jobs, our relationships, and our families, then we might have a mental health condition called General Anxiety Disorder. Here’s what to know about General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and how to treat it.
1. Biological and Environmental Factors Influence GAD. Psychologists aren’t certain what causes one person to develop GAD and another not to, but they do know that there is a correlation between one’s genes and how they grew up and the illness. Those who grew up in dysfunctional families where one or both parents were controlling, perfectionistic, anxious, depressed or struggled with substance abuse tend to have children who develop GAD. Also, parents who have high expectations of their children and project their own needs and desires on them tend to pass on their own anxiety and insecurities to their children. Biologically, there is evidence that GAD is genetic, as it tends to run in families. Of course, it is difficult to know if this is due to environmental factors that pass on from generation to generation, or if there is an actual genetic component to the condition.
2. Symptoms Can be Debilitating. Some who struggle with GAD go about their everyday lives with a general feeling of uneasiness, and they tend to hide their condition. Others are affected by the condition more severely, and struggle to maintain jobs or relationships, as their anxiety prevents them from rational decision making. Some of the symptoms include, chronic worry about areas of one’s life that are not in one’s control, over-analyzing problems, indecisiveness, inability to relax, and an inability to concentrate. More uncomfortable than the mental symptoms are the physical symptoms that manifest as a result of the condition. These include panic attacks, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, nausea, and tremors.
3. You Don’t Have to Suffer Alone. Though dealing with GAD can be isolating and scary, there is no need to hide your condition or pretend that it doesn’t exist. GAD is a very common condition, but it is also very treatable. Counseling is a very effective way to treat GAD, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT helps patients change their method of thinking and behavioral patterns in such a way that chronic fear or other negative patterns will no longer be such a challenge to overcome. There are also medications that treat GAD, but it’s important to be cautious and talk to your doctor first before taking any medication. Benzodiazepines can be very effective, but they can be both sedating and addictive. More popular treatments with many doctors include anti-depressants, which also treat anxiety without as many negative side effects as benzodiazepines. Regardless, it’s important to talk to a trusted doctor in order to decide which path is right for you. Many have found that a combination of counseling and medication has been the most effective combination in attacking GAD.
If you are struggling with pervasive anxiety and it is interfering with your ability to enjoy life, it’s time to start looking for effective solutions. While fear can be an important motivator to change the direction of our lives in a positive way, living with too much fear can be debilitating and unnecessary. So many of those who have struggled with GAD have altered their method of thinking and changed their behavior patterns. There is no reason why you can’t overcome GAD as well.