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First off, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a little more than just a panic or anxiety disorder. On the NIMH website, they describe the average person with GAD: “They go through the day filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke it. Sometimes, just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety."
Often, the symptoms of GAD can be worse and last longer than the average panic attack. Because the GAD sufferer experiences being anxious and worries each and every day, there’s really little down time. People with GAD even have nightmares and sweat while sleeping which makes them feel exhausted when daylight comes; or they may not be able to sleep much at all.
Left untreated, GAD can become so debilitating, other disorders such as agoraphobia (fear of leaving home) or extreme panic symptoms such as trouble breathing, dizziness or an “out of touch" feeling can occur. The ability to concentrate on the smallest of details becomes impossible and it can be hard dating someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder if you simply think to yourself, “Why doesn’t he just stop worrying and calm down already!"
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Tips & Advice for the Non-GAD
A first date with someone suffering from GAD may go really well. In fact, no severe GAD person would even go on a date unless they were experiencing a calm time; or consecutive dates for that matter. As a relationship builds, only then does dating someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder become an issue for the Non-GAD partner.
If you do find yourself in a relationship with someone who has GAD, although you might not quite “get it," there are things you can do to help:
- Full Blown Panic – If the GAD sufferer experiences full blown panic and needs to leave an establishment don’t argue with the person—and never yell. Calmly take them home or to a place where they feel comfortable. Never tell the person to relax, because they truly can’t.
- Know Their Meds – Often during a bad time, the GAD person may not even know where their medications are. If you are committed to the relationship, know what meds they take and in what dose. If they have a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication, offer them one during a bad time and know how much they have taken.
- Keep Things Confidential – Many GAD sufferers are fine talking about their disorder where others are not, and the fear of other people knowing can bring on an attack. Don’t tell friends about your partner’s disorder unless they are comfortable with other people knowing.
- Get Involved in Therapy – Whether you go with your partner to therapy or do it on your own, either resource will help you better understand GAD and how to handle tough situations.
- Save Reasoning for Calm Times – Because a GAD sufferer’s mind can race during a bad episode, don’t try and reason with them during an attack. Wait until they are calm and ask if they know what prompted the attack. Ask them when they are calm how or what they would like you to do for them when an episode comes on suddenly.
- Respect Their Limits – There are things people with GAD simply may never be able to confront such as driving on busy highways or crossing a high bridge. Understand those limits and don’t force them to do something that will bring on an attack.
- Be Supportive and Firm – If you are dating someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and they refuse to get help for their condition, wait until they are in a calm state and tell them how much you do care and encourage they get help. If they refuse, try to involve a close family member of the sufferer. If your GAD partner refused to get help, it’s not something you can force them to do, so understand that your relationship may end at some point in the future; and that’s not your fault.
- Less is More – Never try and take the person’s mind off of worries or bad episodes by enticing them into crowded places or situations they don’t want to be in. While it may sound like a good idea to you, it’s probably not for them, so understand their dilemma and be patient.
- Get Involved in What They Do Like – Whether it’s painting, playing a board game or watching a movie, if there are things that help your GAD partner stay calm, get involved and participate.
Dating someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder doesn’t mean the person is crazy or can’t lead a normal life. While they may need therapy and medications to achieve daily worries, dilemmas and panic issues, the more you learn about the condition, the more you’ll be able to understand how to help your GAD partner best.
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Generalized Anxiety Disorder - NIMH (accessed 9/10/10) - http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad.shtml