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Anxiety is a general feeling of being worried. Everyone experiences anxiety once in a while. People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), however, feel anxious often or feel very anxious, not necessarily because of a situation. For them, anxiety interferes with their daily lives.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of anxiety may include:
What Causes It?
Many things can cause anxiety -- for example, some medications may cause you to be anxious, or a medical condition may trigger feelings of anxiety. Scientists aren't sure what causes GAD, although they think that certain chemicals in the brain -- called neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine -- may be involved. Genes, your environment, and your life situation may also contribute to GAD.
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
Your doctor or mental health provider will talk to you about when you feel anxious and what it feels like. Your health care provider will take your medical history, give you a physical examination, and may take blood or urine samples for laboratory tests. Sometimes, you will have an electrocardiogram (EKG) to rule out heart problems. You may be asked to fill out a psychological questionnaire.
To be diagnosed with GAD, a person must meet the following criteria:
Treatment for anxiety depends on what's causing it. If you have an underlying physical condition, your doctor will treat it. If your anxiety has no physical cause, your doctor may recommend counseling to help you learn coping strategies and problem-solving techniques.
A 2007 review of studies that used cognitive behavioral therapy to treat anxiety found that it worked for GAD. In cognitive behavioral therapy, you learn to modify or replace anxious thoughts with healthy ones.
Your doctor may also suggest trying relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing. Sometimes, your doctor may prescribe medications to help until you have learned these techniques.
There are no over-the-counter therapies for treating anxiety.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Mind-body techniques, nutrition, exercise, and herbs may help reduce anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, biofeedback, meditation, and self-hypnosis can help you relax and reduce your anxiety.
Several studies suggest that exercise works to reduce depression, and at least one 2007 study found that regular, intense exercise -- running or playing football, for example -- can also have a positive effect on anxiety. The benefits lasted up to 5 years.
Although there is no diet to relieve anxiety, eating healthy meals keeps your body well nourished and strong. Avoid caffeine because it can make you feel restless. Avoid alcohol and nicotine as well. Eat more fresh vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Keep your blood sugar steady by eating frequent small meals that contain protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. Herbs, however, can trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider.
If you already take medication for anxiety, ask your doctor before taking any herbs. Some of the herbs used to treat anxiety can interact with anxiety medications.
Essential oils of lemon balm, bergamot, and jasmine are calming, and you can use them as aromatherapy. Place several drops in a warm bath or atomizer, or on a cotton ball.
Although few studies have examined the effectiveness of specific homeopathic therapies, professional homeopaths may consider the following remedies for the treatment of anxiety based on their knowledge and experience. Before prescribing a remedy, homeopaths take into account a person's constitutional type -- your physical, emotional, and psychological makeup. An experienced homeopath assesses all of these factors when determining the most appropriate treatment for each individual.
Some evidence shows that acupuncture may help reduce symptoms of anxiety, especially when combined with behavioral therapies including psychotherapy. One study showed that benefits lasted as long as one year after treatment.
Acupuncturists treat people with anxiety based on an individualized assessment of the excesses and deficiencies of qi located in various meridians. With anxiety, a qi deficiency is often detected in the kidney or spleen meridians. In addition to performing needling techniques, acupuncturists may also use lifestyle and breathing techniques as well as herbal and dietary therapy.
Therapeutic massage can help reduce anxiety and stress.
Follow your health care provider's instructions, and practice relaxation techniques as needed.
Be sure to tell your health care provider if you are pregnant. Call your provider if you experience any significant side effects from prescribed medications.
Avoid kava kava, valerian, and St. John's wort if you are pregnant or nursing.
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Review Date: 12/30/2011
Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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