It’s normal to have some anxiety from time to time. Everyone experiences anxiety as a normal reaction to threatening, dangerous, uncertain, or important situations. When you’re taking a test, going on a trip, or meeting your prospective in-laws for the first time, you’re going to have anxiety. Psychologists classify anxiety as normal or pathological. Normal anxiety can enhance your function, motivation, and productivity, such as the person who works well under pressure.
But there’s a larger problem called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and it affects an estimated five to seven million Americans. More relevant, it affects approximately 13.6% of women with PCOS.
And, since about one-third of women with PCOS have Major Depressive Disorder, which typically includes anxiety features, the number is functionally a lot higher.
People with GAD experience pathological anxiety, which is excessive, chronic, and typically interferes with their ability to function in normal daily activities. GAD patients are about 60%women/40% men, and women with PCOS are affected by anxiety disorders more often than other people, just as we’re more affected by depressive disorders.
There are biological and environmental risk factors for GAD, which include the following:
Environmental stressors (e.g., work, school, relationships)
Genetics (Research has shown a 20% risk for GAD in blood relatives of people with the disorder and a 10% risk among relatives of people with depression.)
Sleep deprivation, sleep inconsistency
Stress in the following areas can intensify symptoms:
Symptoms include trembling, general nervousness or tension, shortness of breath, diarrhea, hot flashes, feeling worried or agitated, trouble falling asleep, poor concentration, tingling, sweating, rapid heartbeat, frequent urination, and dizziness. A panic attack, which is an extreme manifestation of anxiety, may feel like a heart attack, and sends many patients to the emergency room. If you’re having these types of symptoms, you should definitely make sure you’ve seen a physician to rule out medical conditions.
This type of anxiety is obviously more severe than normal anxiety, and can even be quite disabling. There might be a tendency to expect the worst without clear evidence, with particular worries about health, finances, job, and family. Individuals often can’t relax, sleep or concentrate on the task at hand. This disorder affects the quality of work and home life. Someone who has GAD may know that their worry is excessive, but don’t feel like anything can be done about it.
There are also some cultural issues – many people in the United States who are diagnosed with GAD claim to have been nervous or anxious their whole lives. Eastern societies, on the other hand, perceive and treat anxiety differently, as something associated with pain. So anxiety may be seen as normal in one setting, and pathological in another setting.
GAD is associated with irregular levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals across nerve endings. Neurotransmitters that seem to involve anxiety include norepinephrine, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), and serotonin. Anxiety may result in part from defects in serotonin neurotransmission, and drugs that augment this activity may be useful in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
However, many therapists believe that GAD is a behavioral condition and should not be treated with medication. Further, some believe GAD is more closely related to depression than to anxiety.
I tend to believe that there’s a spectrum, and usually, if you’ve got depression, you’ve got some anxiety, and vice versa.
There also seems to be a correlation between GAD and other psychiatric disorders, including depression, phobia disorder, and panic disorder. Anxiety is a risk factor for sleep disorders such as insomnia.
If you have numerous symptoms of anxiety, it’s important to be evaluated by a mental health professional who can help you identify the causes of your anxiety, and teach you ways to manage your anxiety. Many forms of therapy are effective, and I see great results in my anxiety clients who practice yoga or meditation (or both!). If that’s not enough, you can be evaluated by a psychiatrist and try some of the highly effective anxiety-reduction medications.
Call or text me at (310) 625-6083 if you’d like more information about dealing with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
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