Fortunately, mental health professionals have been paying increased attention to the disorder, leading to successful treatment approaches. And the treatments don't take years, Barlow and Ross said.
The trend is toward targeted, goal-driven sessions, with intense treatment lasting a couple of months or so, then tapering off to occasional sessions. Usually, cognitive behavioral therapy -- including talk therapy, cognitive "restructuring" to change the way people view situations that typically trigger worry -- can help, Barlow said. So can exercise.
The goal, Ross said, is to get the person with GAD to experience the feeling of worry and "desensitize" him or her to it -- "to experience it over and over again almost until it gets boring."
Ross said she helps GAD sufferers learn to tolerate the discomfort of their anxiety, over and over, until it starts to diminish. She helps them do this by having them ask themselves about their areas of concern: Is this a realistic worry? What are the probabilities of this happening? Then, she suggests they attempt to let go of the worry.
Curiously, when a wave of worry sweeps over them, most GAD sufferers "try to stamp it out, not experience it," Barlow said. "But ironically, that only serves to increase the intensity of the emotion. We teach them new ways to experience emotions, how to experience emotions in more positive ways, to ride them through, to accept them, to let them run their natural course."
In addition to cognitive or behavioral therapy, medications can also help, Barlow said, including the antidepressants Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine) and Effexor (venlafaxine).
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