Life provides ample opportunity to worry. From natural disasters to job losses, there are many legitimate things for adults to worry about and we all do it, even our kids. While their worries may be different than ours, they are just as real and just as valid. But for both adults and teens, worry sometimes moves from everyday concern into excessive anxiety. When worry becomes all encompassing, when it begins to impact every day activities, it can stop being normal worry and become Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Severe non-specific anxiety is often diagnosed as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and it is estimated to affect about 3% of the U.S. adult population. GAD also affects about one out of every eight children. People with GAD experience excessive and unwarranted levels of anxiety about normal everyday events and possibilities. Often, the anxiety is related to things that do not warrant the level of anxiety being experienced. It is also not uncommon for those with GAD to focus on the worst possible outcome of every situation to the exclusion of everything else. When these negative thoughts take root, it can feel impossible for the person with the condition to stop them.
When teenagers have this condition, they can struggle in all areas of their lives. The residual impact of untreated GAD during the teen years can last throughout their lives. GAD can make it difficult to concentrate at school, impacting grades, college options, and future employment. It can cause irritability and make people unwilling to engage in or participate in social situations. When this happens, teens can miss important social milestones, fail to form friendships, and struggle with feelings of loneliness and ostracism. The significant and long-lasting consequences of GAD in teens underscores the importance of seeking treatment rather than waiting for the problems to resolve themselves. The good news is that with proper treatment, teenagers can overcome GAD by learning to manage their symptoms.
The difference between someone who worries a lot and someone with GAD is the level of anxiety they experience and how long the anxiety lasts. GAD causes persistent, chronic anxiety that lasts for at least 6 months. Unlike worrying about a date for the prom or about getting a good grade on a test, GAD is consistently present; symptoms are often experienced all day, every day. Another differentiating factor for those with GAD is that calming methods, and even repeated reassurances, do not help to ease the feelings brought on by GAD.
People with GAD also experience physical symptoms including unexplained fatigue, problems sleeping, restlessness, edginess, irritability, difficulties concentrating and headaches. It is also common for those with this condition to also suffer from gastrointestinal problems including nausea and diarrhea.
While there is no known cause for GAD, it is associated with several factors that seem to increase the risk of it developing. These factors include stress, heredity, and experiencing traumatic events. People with this condition generally respond well to therapy, medication, or a combination of both.