Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) has several possible causes and frequently coexists with other diagnoses. Anxiety is created by the perceptions of past, present, and possible future events. Anxiety can certainly result from parenting stress, work stress, financial stress, tension with a coworker or supervisor, and conflicts within significant relationships. Anxiety is a “fight or flight” response which is part of every human’s brain as a survival behavior. However, trauma and Generalized Anxiety Disorder can result from past experiences which have not been confronted or resolved within one’s thought patterns. Furthermore, childhood physical or emotional abuse, growing up in a chaotic family environment, being bullied by peers, or experiencing one or more traumatic events at any point in one’s lifetime can all cause a pervasive and debilitating sense of fear or self-doubt, both which are common symptoms of those who struggle with anxiety. ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder can be exacerbated result from performance insecurities or poor academic functioning. Children who are introverted, which is typically an inborn trait, are prone to this type of anxiety, due to difficulties with social interactions and establishing relationships. Furthermore, having an overprotective parent or a highly critical parent may cause a lack of social confidence in a child or adolescent, thus increasing the risk of developing Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, a person has difficulty staying focused, due to irrational fears and obsessive, unwanted thoughts. The following symptoms are experienced by those with Generalized Anxiety Disorder: (1) persistent worries about one’s abilities or about what negative events “could” happen, (2) overthinking plans and solutions and ruminating about the worst possible outcomes, (3) perceiving most situations and events as threatening, (4) difficulty handling uncertainty, (5) indecisiveness due to an overwhelming fear of making the wrong decision, (6) inability to let go of a past mistake, (7) frequent restlessness, and (8) great difficulty in getting oneself out of a “crisis mode.”
Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Another cause of anxiety is being involved in a relationship with an emotionally abusive partner, due to the critical treatment and gaslighting. Being in an emotionally abusive relationship may cause someone to feel inadequate when he or she cannot “fix” that person’s behavioral and emotional problems. In fact, anxiety can be a large part of daily life with an abusive partner, due to the unpredictable moods and manipulative behaviors. Another emotional strain could be the isolation from family and friends, which is often demanded by the abusive partner. Your needs and wishes will always be unimportant or secondary to those of your abusive partner, but you cannot express your true feelings due to the fear of threats, degradation, and other negative reactions. It is impossible for an abusive or narcissistic person to compromise with one’s partner, to apologize, and to admit to any wrongdoing or lying. All of these circumstances can create Generalized Anxiety Disorder symptoms which may last for years after the relationship is over.
Trauma and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is also common among survivors of chronic trauma during childhood or adolescence. Trauma causes a sense of shame, helplessness, panic, and the tendency to perceive many life events as fearful. Long-term anxiety can also result from either directly experiencing or witnessing repeated episodes of interpersonal violence and/or exposure to severe and persistent emotional abuse.
Trauma survivors often experience cognitive difficulties, such as constant battling against a harsh inner critic, and they tend to experience social anxiety and self-doubt on a daily basis. These symptoms overlap with some symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. A final point is that childhood and adolescent trauma has been significantly correlated with specific effects on the brain motivation and pleasure pathways which involve serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, and these brain chemistry changes can cause anxiety symptoms.
ADHD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder
ADHD is another disorder which could actually cause Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have many clients who meet the criteria for GAD but have the primary diagnosis of ADHD. The symptoms of ADHD can create constant anxiety, due to difficulty with time management, task completion, and organizational skills, as well as the tendency to become easily confused in one’s thought processes. ADHD individuals often misplace items and forget appointments, which gives the appearance of being irresponsible and incompetent and which can create great anxiety. Furthermore, ADHD individuals can become easily stressed and overwhelmed by even simple tasks and may face each day with restlessness and fear about keeping one’s life under control. This lifestyle can cause the ADHD individual to develop anxiety symptoms, particularly self-defeating thoughts, insecurities about achieving life goals, and difficulty with relaxation. Other common similarities between ADHD and GAD are disorganization, procrastination, social insecurities, poor stress management skills, and persistent worries about one’s ability to stay focused on parental, work, and/or academic responsibilities.
In summary, Generalized Anxiety Disorder can have multiple causes, but the result is a cycle of disturbing thoughts and emotions, which the individual tries to avoid, deny, or hide. The anxiety cycle continues, because the ruminating thoughts create a sense of shame and a lack of control. Learning how to identify and “own” self-doubting, irrational, fear-perpetuating, and, otherwise, unproductive thoughts is the first crucial step toward gaining control over such thought patterns. Thus, it is necessary to clarify and to confront the effects of life experiences and relationships which are the sources of one’s current anxiety. Until these steps are taken, the individual will continue to fear the future and to stay rooted in the past.
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