Generalized Anxiety Disorder: What Parents Need to Know

A teen singing.

Generalized anxiety disorder most commonly affects those between adolescence and middle age. Image via Wikipedia

Overview

Everyone worries about things, even children and teenagers.  Whether the worry is over the upcoming history test, getting a date to the prom, or making the soccer team, anxiety is a normal part of everyday life.  However, in some people, normal everyday worries can become excessive and everyday things can cause severe anxiety.  This type of anxiety is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it affects about 3% of the U.S.population each year, including one in eight children.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by exaggerated anxiety and unwarranted worry about everyday problems.  People with this disorder may obsess about the worst case scenario in every situation and are unable to stop their anxiety from spiraling out of control.  Women are two times as likely to have the disorder and it most commonly affects those between adolescence and middle age.

 

Teens and young adults with the disorder may not do as well in school, may be susceptible to substance abuse problems, and may struggle with social milestones if it is not treated.  However, with the right combination of treatment, support, and assistance, children with GAD can learn to manage their symptoms and successfully navigate their lives.

 Symptoms

People with GAD experience consistent, persistent, chronic worry or anxiety about things that do not warrant this level of anxiety for more than 6 months.

One of the key differences between the anxiety everyone experiences and GAD is that everyday anxiety is temporary and GAD is not.  Adults and children with GAD can experience heightened anxiety all day, every day and it can interfere with their normal activities.  It is common for those with GAD to use avoidance as a tool for managing their anxiety.  An adolescent who is experiencing temporary anxiety will respond to comforting words, reassurances, and a list of the reasons they don’t need to be anxious.  The anxiety of a child or teen with GAD will not be soothed by these techniques.

In addition to the chronic nature of the anxious thoughts and feelings someone with GAD experiences, there are also some physical symptoms that are often present with the disorder including:

  • Unexplained fatigue and problems sleeping
  • Restlessness, edginess, and irritability
  • Gastrointestinal problems including  nausea and diarrhea
  • Difficulties concentrating and headaches

Causes

Generalized anxiety disorder has no known cause but stress, traumatic events, heredity, and biological factors may contribute to its onset.  It is relatively common and can affect people of all ages.  Although it generally develops gradually over time, many people with the disorder cannot remember a time when they did not experience some level of anxiety.

Treatment

Many people with GAD respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, or a combination of both.  Therapy can be beneficial in helping a person with the disorder to identify their triggers and modify their thought patterns and behavior.  Techniques for easing anxiety and promoting relaxation can also be beneficial to those with GAD.

It is very common for people with GAD to have a co-existing disorder.  Depression, substance abuse, and other anxiety disorders are commonly seen in those with the disorder.  Getting diagnosis and treatment for any co-existing conditions is an important part of overall treatment for GAD.

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