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Practical treatments for generalized anxiety disorder

Practical treatments for generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is a recognized and common condition. With the levels of stress that most of us face on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that this disorder can easily develop. It’s good to know that this is a medical condition that can actually be treated with medication and/or psychotherapy. The main symptoms associated with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are tension, inability to relax, and constant worry about matters that do not require extreme concern. Anyone with ODD has a hard time controlling their symptoms. It is as if there is a train of anxiety running through the mind at all times and it will not stop unless the person experiencing these symptoms finds quiet isolation. Other symptoms that accompany this disorder are difficulty concentrating, being easily startled, chronic irritability that can lead to drug seeking, general restlessness and insomnia (Hoffman SG, 2008).

The most practical approach to treating GAD is a combination of cognitive therapy and medication. Cognitive therapy is a way or retraining of the brain to respond to certain stimuli in a healthy way. For example, if the sound of a dog barking triggers a panic attack, the therapist will work with someone to discover what triggers that reaction. These triggers set off a chemical cascade in the brain that causes anxiety. By discovering the thoughts that cause the anxiety response, a cognitive therapist is able to help redirect the thought process to eliminate feelings of anxiety and panic. Often, by the time a person reaches the doctor’s office for this problem, medication is needed to relieve symptoms and protect the body from the dangers of chronic stress.

Currently, the main pharmacological treatment for generalized anxiety disorder is a class of drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). These medications have been shown to be the best treatment for GAD. They increase levels of a neurotransmitter (a chemical that facilitates a specific electrical impulse in the brain) called serotonin. When there is enough serotonin in our brain, we feel content, confident, trusting and secure. When serotonin is deficient, we feel fearful, anxious, shy, and insecure (Pollack MH, 2008). SSRIs have been proven effective in countless studies. These include drugs such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and citalopram (Celexa), among many others. When someone has stayed on one of these medications for 6-8 months, they may be taken off the medication to determine if it is still needed. The only downside to SSRIs is the time it takes for them to show any benefit. It may take 4-6 weeks before any results are noticed.

Meanwhile, drugs known as benzodiazepines are prescribed for short-term relief until the SSRI kicks in and cognitive therapy begins to show results. These drugs are immediately effective within less than an hour. Alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), and oxazepam (Serax) are some of the commonly prescribed benzodiazepines. These are the most effective drugs for anxiety disorders, but they are highly addictive, so doctors usually prescribe a small amount until other treatments begin to help.

This is all good news. Psychiatrists around the world have a treatment plan for GAD. You don’t have to live with this problem or fear treatment.

Hoffman SG, SJ (2008). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety disorders in adults: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 69; 621-632 [Pub Med].

Pollack MH, KG (2008). Pharmacology of anxiety disorders. Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatry, Chapter 41

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