How Generalized Anxiety Disorder Is Treated (2022)

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition characterized by excessive, chronic worry that interferes with a person's ability to function in daily life.

GAD is commonly treated with medications, such as antidepressants; psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy; and lifestyle activities, such as relaxation techniques.

Learn more about GAD treatment options.

How Generalized Anxiety Disorder Is Treated (1)

Prescription Medications

Medications can be very effective at treating GAD.

An examination of scientific experiments known as randomized controlled trials regarding the use of medication in treating GAD showed response rates ranging from 44%–81%.

The first line of medications used to treat GAD are:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  • Azapirones

Other medications used to treat GAD include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antipsychotics

GAD Medications and Interactions

Medications used to treat GAD can have negative or dangerous effects when taken with other medications, including some herbal and "natural" treatments. GAD medications can also interact with alcohol.

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Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs prescribed for GAD include:

  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)

Side effects of SSRIs might include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight gain
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Sedation
  • Sexual problems
  • Jittery or restless feeling
  • Sleep difficulties

Should Children and Adolescents Take Medication for GAD?

While SSRIs have shown some promise in treating younger people, there is limited evidence on how effective antidepressants are for childhood GAD. Also, antidepressants can come with a variety of potential side effects and risks in children and adolescents. Therefore, other treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), are often recommended as a first-line treatment for childhood GAD.

Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs)

SNRIs prescribed for GAD include:

  • Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Cymbalta (duloxetine)

Common side effects of SNRIs might include:

  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sexual problems
  • Increased blood pressure (in higher doses)

Azapirones

Buspirone (brand name BuSpar) is a common drug known as azapirones prescribed for GAD. It can take some time and dosage adjustments to be effective.

Some common side effects of buspirone include:

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Changes in dreams
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness

Never Stop "Cold Turkey"

Medications used to treat GAD can have some uncomfortable side effects when stopped abruptly. Always consult your healthcare provider before discontinuing your medication to make a plan to taper off under their guidance.

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Tricyclic Antidepressants

Some tricyclic antidepressants prescribed for GAD include:

  • Trofranil (imipramine)
  • Pamelor (nortriptyline)
  • Norpramin (desipramine)
  • Anafranil (clomipramine)

Side-effects of tricyclic antidepressants can include:

  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble urinating
  • Dry mouth
  • Drowsiness
  • Weight gain
  • Excessive sweating (especially at night)
  • Heart rhythm problems, such as palpitations or tachycardia (a fast heartbeat)

Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines are meant to be used short term as a supplement to other medications and treatments for GAD.

Benzodiazepines that are used to treat GAD include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)

Side effects of benzodiazepines can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Confusion
  • Unsteadiness (especially in older people)
  • Dizziness
  • Slurred speech
  • Muscle weakness
  • Memory problems
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision

Can Benzodiazepines Be Habit-Forming?

While taking benzodiazepines short term or occasionally is unlikely to cause a dependency, regular long-term use can be habit-forming, meaning you can become dependent on them and experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking them.

Always talk to your healthcare provider before taking benzodiazepines and follow their directions for use.

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Sometimes, in those not responding well to other options, antipsychotic medications—especially the newer drugs—are used. This is particularly the case if there are co-occurring psychiatric conditions.

Therapies

Psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a common treatment for GAD, particularly CBT.

Psychotherapy is often paired with medications and lifestyle coping strategies to treat GAD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Across all disorders and age groups, CBT is the most frequently endorsed evidence-based practice (an approach that uses the most current research) on the list compiled by the Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures.

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that works by challenging negative thinking patterns. It helps a person replace thoughts and responses that contribute to GAD with ones that are more productive.

The five components of CBT for anxiety are:

  • Education: Learning about generalized anxiety disorder and how to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful worry, creating a more accepting and proactive response to anxiety
  • Monitoring: Learning to be aware of your episodes of anxiety—what triggers them, the specific things you worry about, and the severity and length of episodes—to get perspective and track your progress
  • Physical control strategies: Learning relaxation techniques to help decrease the physical fight-or-flight response caused by anxiety
  • Cognitive control strategies: Learning to realistically evaluate, challenge, and change the negative thinking patterns that contribute to GAD
  • Behavioral strategies: Learning to confront fears by imagining the things you’re most afraid of and focusing on your fears without trying to avoid or escape them

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Therapy

An analysis of 36 randomized controlled trials on meditation has revealed that meditative therapies reduce anxiety symptoms; however, most studies focused on anxiety symptoms rather than anxiety disorders.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy (MBSR) involves focusing attention on the present, acknowledging your emotional state, and meditating.

MBSR is an 8-week program of weekly group classes and daily mindfulness exercises that are practiced at home. Mindfulness is increased through yoga and meditation.

Mindfulness is showing promising results to help not just with anxiety, but with many other health conditions.

(Video) Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Animation

Alternative Treatments

Yoga

Sometimes used as part of mindfulness therapy and sometimes on its own, yoga has been suggested as part of a treatment plan for GAD.

In a 2021 study, Kundalini yoga showed positive results, but was not as effective as CBT in helping GAD patients. This suggests that yoga should be used as a supplemental therapy, not a first-line treatment.

Lifestyle

While anxiety disorders can't always be prevented, there are some ways to lessen the symptoms (or not make them worse):

  • Check your medications: Some medications, including over-the-counter and herbal medications, can make anxiety symptoms worse. Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting a new treatment.
  • Limit alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine: Some substances, including alcohol, cigarettes, and drinks and food items containing caffeine, including coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate, can make anxiety worse.
  • Develop healthy lifestyle habits: Eating healthy food, getting plenty of exercise, staying hydrated, and being well-rested can help reduce anxiety symptoms.

Other ways to cope with anxiety include:

  • Meditation
  • Joining support groups
  • Practicing yoga
  • Listening to music
  • Getting a massage
  • Practicing relaxation techniques
  • Taking deep breaths
  • Slowly counting to 10
  • Getting involved in your community
  • Talking to friends, family, or a therapist
  • Building a strong support system
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

Need to Calm Down Fast? Make Use of Your Senses

Use your senses to help you calm down:

  • Sight: Look at anything that makes you feel relaxed, or even just name the things that you see around you.
  • Sound: Listen to music, sing, play an instrument, listen to nature sounds, or any other sounds you find relaxing.
  • Smell: Go outside and smell flowers or the fresh air, or stay in and light scented candles, make an aromatic food or beverage, or take a shower with your favorite scented bath products.
  • Taste: Eat a favorite food, drink a special beverage, chew gum, or suck on a mint or hard candy.
  • Touch: Give or receive a massage (or give one to yourself), cuddle with a pet or stuffed animal, stand in the rain or the breeze, or get cozy under a blanket
  • Movement: Take a walk, do jumping jacks, stretch, dance, or do any other activity that gets your body moving

A Word From Verywell

It is important to seek help for GAD, and that usually starts with talking to a healthcare provider. From there, you will be able to seek appropriate treatment, whether it be through psychotherapy, medications, or lifestyle changes, or a combination of the three.

Once on a treatment plan, be honest with your healthcare provider about what is helping and what is not. Don't be afraid to ask for adjustments to be made to your care plan if you need them.

While it can take some time and trial and error to find a treatment plan that works for you, GAD can be managed.

(Video) 6 Tips To Treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

FAQs

How do you treat generalized anxiety disorder? ›

The two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are psychotherapy and medications. You may benefit most from a combination of the two. It may take some trial and error to discover which treatments work best for you.

What is the most effective treatment for generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for GAD. Studies of different treatments for GAD have found the benefits of CBT may last longer than those of medication, but no single treatment works for everyone.

Is generalized anxiety treatable? ›

If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD can make daily life feel like a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. The good news is GAD is treatable.

What is first line treatment for generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are generally considered first-line therapy for GAD and PD.

Is GAD a serious mental illness? ›

Yes; generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a serious mental illness that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Is GAD a lifelong disorder? ›

Individuals with GAD often describe themselves as lifelong worriers, and their tendency to worry is often so pronounced and persistent it is often and readily recognized by others as extreme or exaggerated.

Can you fully recover from GAD? ›

Anxiety disorders can be long-lasting, but full recovery is also possible. Some studies⁵ report that generalized anxiety disorder follows a pattern of recovery and relapse for up to 20 years.

Can you overcome generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Living with anxiety can be challenging. However, like other anxiety disorders, GAD is highly treatable. Some of the most effective treatments include psychotherapy, medication, and making lifestyle changes.

Can I live a normal life with anxiety disorder? ›

Yes, anxiety symptoms and thinking about anxiety can completely disappear. In fact, you can go back to living a normal life again without any concern about anxiety.

How long does it take to treat generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Success of treatment varies, but most people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care. Benefits of CBT are usually seen in 12 to 16 weeks. Medication may be a short-term or long-term treatment option, depending on severity of symptoms, other medical conditions and individual circumstances.

What are the main causes of generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Causes of and risk factors for GAD may include both environmental and genetic factors, such as:
  • a family history of anxiety.
  • recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations, including personal or family illnesses.
  • excessive use of caffeine or tobacco, which can make existing anxiety worse.
  • childhood abuse or bullying.

How is general anxiety disorder diagnosed? ›

Healthcare providers diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least 6 months. Worrying may be something you are so used to, you may think it's just "how you are." Common worries include your health, money, family, or work.

Can anxiety disorder be cured permanently? ›

Anxiety is not curable, but there are ways to keep it from being a big problem. Getting the right treatment for your anxiety will help you dial back your out-of-control worries so that you can get on with life. There are many ways to do this.

Can anxiety be treated without medication? ›

Anxiety is treatable without medication using the right combination of lifestyle changes, therapies, and support. If a person is concerned about their anxiety, they should reach out to a mental health professional or doctor and not delay care.

Does GAD need medication? ›

Psychotherapy, with or without medication, is often considered a fundamental aspect of treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. Several specific forms of psychotherapy have been described in research studies as helpful for alleviating the symptoms of GAD.

How do people live with generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Outside of therapy, patients with anxiety can learn to live with it by using relaxation techniques, by changing negative thoughts, and by making positive changes to reduce stress. Also important to living with generalized anxiety is being socially engaged and taking time for healthy self-care.

How does GAD make you feel? ›

GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than 1 specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed.

Does generalized anxiety disorder get worse with age? ›

Does anxiety get worse with age? Anxiety disorders don't necessarily get worse with age, but the number of people suffering from anxiety changes across the lifespan. Anxiety becomes more common with older age and is most common among middle-aged adults.

Who is at risk for generalized anxiety disorder? ›

GAD may be more likely in those with history of: Traumatic event—physical or emotional. Poor or oppressed. Childhood abuse or neglect; exposure to parental abuse or drug use or physical discipline.

How common is Generalised anxiety disorder? ›

Nearly 6 per cent of the population will experience GAD in their lifetime. The condition tends to affect more women than men. It can occur at any time in life and is common in all age groups, including children and older people, although on average it starts around 30 years of age.

What happens if generalized anxiety disorder is left untreated? ›

For the majority of people with undiagnosed or untreated anxiety disorder, there are many negative consequences, for both the individual and society. These include disability, reduced ability to work leading to loss of productivity, and a high risk of suicide.

Is anxiety a mental illness? ›

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.

When is anxiety too much? ›

See your doctor if: You feel like you're worrying too much and it's interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life. Your fear, worry or anxiety is upsetting to you and difficult to control.

What are signs of high anxiety? ›

Some common symptoms of high-functioning anxiety include:
  • Constantly overthinking and overanalyzing.
  • Fear of failure and striving for perfection.
  • Insomnia and fatigue.
  • The need to please others and difficulty saying no.
  • Tendency to dwell on past mistakes.
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting, hair twirling, or leg shaking.
1 Nov 2021

What triggers generalized anxiety disorder? ›

What causes GAD? GAD can develop when you can't cope well with your internal stress. It also runs in families, but it's not understood why some people get it and others don't. Researchers have shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are involved.

What is the drug of choice for anxiety? ›

SSRIs and SNRIs are often the first-line treatment for anxiety. Common SSRI brands are Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, and Zoloft, and common SNRI brands are Pristiq, Cymbalta, and Effexor XR.

Can anxiety disorder be cured permanently? ›

Anxiety is not curable, but there are ways to keep it from being a big problem. Getting the right treatment for your anxiety will help you dial back your out-of-control worries so that you can get on with life. There are many ways to do this.

How do you know you have generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

your worrying is uncontrollable and causes distress. your worrying affects your daily life, including school, your job and your social life. you cannot let go of your worries. you worry about all sorts of things, such as your job or health, and minor concerns, such as household chores.

How long does generalized anxiety last? ›

Although the diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder may be made after several months of symptoms, the condition can last years, especially without treatment. Many people experience the symptoms as part of a lifelong pattern.

How do people live with generalized anxiety disorder? ›

Outside of therapy, patients with anxiety can learn to live with it by using relaxation techniques, by changing negative thoughts, and by making positive changes to reduce stress. Also important to living with generalized anxiety is being socially engaged and taking time for healthy self-care.

Who is at risk for generalized anxiety disorder? ›

GAD may be more likely in those with history of: Traumatic event—physical or emotional. Poor or oppressed. Childhood abuse or neglect; exposure to parental abuse or drug use or physical discipline.

Is anxiety a mental illness? ›

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.

What is the latest treatment for anxiety? ›

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and SNRIs are both first-line treatments for PD, GAD, and SAD and have been shown to be efficacious for the treatment of anxiety disorders (13–16).

What is the most common treatment for anxiety? ›

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective form of psychotherapy for anxiety disorders. Generally a short-term treatment, CBT focuses on teaching you specific skills to improve your symptoms and gradually return to the activities you've avoided because of anxiety.

Can you overcome GAD? ›

Living with anxiety can be challenging. However, like other anxiety disorders, GAD is highly treatable. Some of the most effective treatments include psychotherapy, medication, and making lifestyle changes.

How long does it take to get over GAD? ›

Remission is not static but rather should be sustainable over a considerable time-at least 8 consecutive weeks. The treatment of GAD involves a sequential process of first resolving the acute, symptomatic anxiety and then maintaining a longer-term constant suppression of chronic anxiety.

Does anxiety increase with age? ›

Anxiety becomes more common with older age and is most common among middle-aged adults. This may be due to a number of factors, including changes in the brain and nervous system as we age, and being more likely to experience stressful life events that can trigger anxiety.

How does a doctor diagnose anxiety? ›

To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a doctor performs a physical exam, asks about your symptoms, and recommends a blood test, which helps the doctor determine if another condition, such as hypothyroidism, may be causing your symptoms. The doctor may also ask about any medications you are taking.

Videos

1. GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER - Symptoms and Treatment options
(Dr. Jenny Yi)
2. Generalised Anxiety Disorder: what is it and how is it treated?
(Top Doctors UK)
3. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: The CBT Approach
(The Washington Center for Cognitive Therapy)
4. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Symptoms, Causes & Treatment #LewisPsychology
(Lewis Psychology)
5. Generalized Anxiety Disorder - GAD | Symptoms, Causes and Treatment | Urdu-Hindi | Psychiatry Clinic
(Psychiatry Clinic)
6. Generalised Anxiety Disorder Treatment | GAD treatment without medication | Dr Kashika Jain | Hindi
(Dr Kashika Jain : Psychologist)

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