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Insight into Therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

written by: BettyHolt • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 3/9/2011

People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), experience excessive and unrelenting worry and have difficulty relaxing. They may worry about the same things others do, but take it to a new level. The good news is that help is available in the form of therapy for generalized anxiety disorder.

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    Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    People with generalized anxiety disorder are worried and fearful much of the time and feel tense and anxious for no identifiable reason. In addition, they may have body aches, sleepless nights and exhaustion. Their worrying disrupts their job, social life or family life. They tend to always expect the worst, have difficulty concentrating and are unable to control their anxious thoughts. It is almost impossible for them to relax.

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    Therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    Therapy for generalized anxiety disorder falls into the categories of psychotherapy, medication, herbs and self-help strategies.

    Psychotherapy - According to helpguide.org, studies show that psychotherapy is just as effective as medication for GAD. Particularly helpful is a type of therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy. It looks at the distortions in the way a person views themself and the world around them. A therapist might challenge "catastrophic thinking," thoughts which imagine the worst possible outcome, and ask what is the actual likelihood that something like that would occur. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has been found to cause greater improvement than no treatment, analytic psychotherapy, pill placebo, nondirective therapy and placebo therapy, according to the American Psychological Association.

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy consists of five components: educating yourself about the disorder, monitoring what triggers your anxiety and the severity and length of an episode, using deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to decrease over-arousal, learning how to challenge your negative thinking, and tackling fears head-on to feel more in control and less anxious.

    Medication - Sometimes medication is prescribed at the beginning of treatment as a temporary measure, but therapy is usually seen as the long-term solution to overcoming GAD. Three types of medication are prescribed. The anti-anxiety drug known as Buspar is considered to be the safest drug for generalized anxiety disorder because it is neither sedating nor addictive. It will lessen anxiety but not eliminate it entirely. The anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines take effect very quickly but can cause physical and psychological dependence after a few weeks of use. They are usually used for severe cases of anxiety. Examples are Klonopin, Ativan, Valium and Xanax. Antidepressants are also used to control neurotransmitters in the brain that play a role in anxiety disorders. They take several weeks to take effect and can worsen sleep problems.

    Herbs - Some herbal supplements are used as therapy for generalized anxiety disorder with few side effects. Kava Kava is reported to cause relaxation without drowsiness. According to the Mayo Clinic, some studies have linked Kava to liver problems. It is not a good idea to take it if you have liver problems or drink alcohol on a regular basis. Valerian is often used as an aid for sleep problems and may relieve anxiety. In the vitamin family, vitamin B and folic acid lessen anxiety by their effect on neurotransmitters in the brain. It is always wise to consult a physician before taking herbs and supplements.

    Self-Help Strategies - Exercising regularly can help reduce anxiety by improving mood and providing an outlet to release tension. Following a healthy diet can help you feel better in general. Eliminating caffeine can reduce that "wired" feeling, and cutting out alcohol is a good idea because drinking wine, beers and spirits can increase anxiety. Incorporating relaxation techniques, meditation and yoga into your routine quells anxiety, as does getting good-quality sleep.