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The Best Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

written by: Kelly Marquize • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/15/2010

What are the best ways to treat generalized anxiety disorder? Read on to find out what they are and how they can benefit you.

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    Treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder

    There are quite a few options when it comes to treating generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), from therapy to self-help, relaxation techniques and herbal remedies. Determining which treatment is best really depends on the individual; however, as a general rule, “the most effective treatment will be an approach which incorporates both psychological and psychopharmacologic approaches” (Grohol, 2004). The best treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are discussed below.

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    Herbal Remedies

    Natural supplements are among the best treatments for generalized anxiety disorder. Natural supplements are a healthy, effective option for the treatment of GAD. Since the supplements are organic, there is no need to worry about harsh chemicals or dangerous side effects that often accompany prescription drugs. For this reason alone, herbal supplements are a great way to ease anxiety. Some of the most effective supplements are:

    (note: make sure to carefully read all labels before taking a supplement as some may not be taken under certain circumstances)

    • Valerian: is a perennial plant that is native to Europe. It is known to be helpful in treating insomnia and anxiety. It works by acting as a mild sedative on the brain and nervous system.
    • Vitamin B and folic acid: these supplements work by aiding the neurotransmitters, or chemicals, in the brain. These neurotransmitters are essential for healthy brain function, including the brain's reactions to stress and anxiety.
    • Kava: found in abundance in the South Pacific, kava, or kava kava, is somewhat of a “miracle” herb. Typically used as a ceremonial drink, it has been known to relax muscles, calm the nerves, create a sense of well-being and peace, enhance mental awareness, and even can act as an aphrodisiac. Kava appears to work by having the same effect as Valium on the brain, only kava improves mood and cognitive performance, while Valium decreases performance (University of Maryland Medical Center, 2010). NOTE: take care when purchasing kava; you want the product to be pure and from the root. Some companies have produced kava with the tops of the plant that may cause liver damage. So please research the product before ordering.

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    Prescription Medication

    For more serious anxiety disorders, prescription medication may be necessary. Usually prescription medication goes hand in hand with therapy, which we talk about later. The most common medications used in treating GAD are anti-depressants and anti-anxiety agents. Here are the leading medications:

    • Benzodiazepines: work by affecting “a key neurotransmitter in the brain called gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA). This neurotransmitter has an inhibitory effect on motor neurons, thus the presence of GABA slows or stops neuronal activity. Benzodiazepines enhance the activity of GABA, effectively slowing nerve impulses throughout the body. The human nervous system has two different types of benzodiazepine receptors: one that causes the anti-anxiety effect, and one that elicits the sedative effect” (CESAR, 2005). The most common benzodiazepines are: Xanax, Librium, Valium, and Ativan.
    • Anti-depressants: these affect the neurotransmitters in the brain. Common anti-depressants are: Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Lexapro, Effexor, and Tofranil.
    • Buspirone (BuSpar): a psychotropic drug with anxiolytic properties. “Buspirone is thought to work by decreasing the amount and actions of a chemical known as serotonin in certain parts of the brain” (Mayo Clinic, 2010).
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    Psychotherapy

    Psychotherapy involves “talking out” your problems as it can help the patient to just talk about the source of their stress. The therapist will help the patient realize their potential in overcoming their anxiety. There are several different therapy techniques, with cognitive behavioral therapy being the most effective.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy consists of “reprogramming” the patient in how they deal with certain behaviors. For instance, if the patient has anxiety about driving on the interstate, the therapist will ask why the patient has anxiety. The patient may reply that they fear that they will crash their vehicle and die. The therapist will help the patient to realize their irrational thought processes and work on desensitizing the patient to that fear.

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    Self-help and Relaxation Techniques

    Self-help and relaxation techniques work well for those who are not deeply affected by GAD. By using the term self-help, it is implied that any positive lifestyle action is being implemented. These actions include regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and so forth. Generally speaking, relaxation techniques can be anything that the individual deems calming, such as breathing exercises, aromatherapy, Pilates and yoga.

    By taking care of your body, you are essentially setting it up for success. When we feed our bodies a healthy, natural diet, we are getting all the nutrients that are needed for healthy brain functions. When our brains are happy and healthy, we follow suit. This is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to treat GAD. Taking care of our bodies should be the number one priority in our lives; by doing so, we are able to care for others.

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    References

    CESAR (2005). Benzodiazepines. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/benzos.asp

    Grohol, J. M. (2004). Generalized Anxiety disorder treatment. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from http://psychcentral.com/disorders/sx24t.htm

    Mayo Clinic (2010). Buspirone (Oral Route). Retrieved November 6, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/drug-information/DR600277

    University of Maryland Medical Center (2010). Kava kava. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/kava-kava-000259.htm