Generalized Anxiety Disorder Case Study: James

A Paper On Case Studies

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Psychology Research & Review

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Generalized anxiety disorder, (GAD) is a traumatic illness, and is hard to understand unless you are experiencing it yourself. While specific anxiety disorders are complicated by panic attacks or other features of the disorder, GAD has no specific focus. (Durand, 2007 p.130). The person constantly worries about everyday life; not being able to figure out what to do with their worries. All the while making themselves and everyone around them miserable. (p.130). The worries seem to take over control of one's life, almost to the point of not being able to function at all.

It seems that GAD tends to run in families based on studies conducted, and seems to happen more to women than men. (Durand, 2007 p.132). And evidence shows that GAD may be proved to be just as heritable, the same as other anxiety disorders. (p.133). The textbook states that this disorder originated in 1980, however therapists were working with patients with anxiety way before the criteria was developed. (p.133). For many years, clinicians believed that people who were generally anxious just didn't seem to have anything specific to focus on, thus calling it the 'free floating' disorder. (p.133).

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) has specific criteria that characterized GAD. As stated in our textbook, the features are:

• Excessive anxiety and worry for 6 months or more about a number of events or activities.
• Difficulty in controlling the worry.
• At least three of these symptoms: (1) restlessness of feeling all keyed up; (2) becoming fatigues easily; (3) difficulty concentrating; (4) irritability; (5) muscle tension; (6) sleep disturbance.
• Significant distress or impairment.
• Anxiety is not limited to one specific issue. (Durand, 2007 p.131).

Generalized anxiety disorder has been studied using various criteria. The National Comorbidity Survey (NCS) focused on noninstitutionalized American civilians ages 15 to 54. The results were reported and found there was a clear predominance of women with GAD, with a 2:1 female/male ratio. It was lowest among the younger age group but increased with age. (NA, 1997). 'There was a significant regional difference in GAD as well, with a higher lifetime prevalence in the Northeast than in other parts of the country.' (1997). Studies have shown that many people could not really pinpoint a clear age of onset of GAD or an onset dating back to childhood. (Barlow, 1993 p.156).
There have also been twin studies which conclude that GAD is somewhat greater for identical female twins than for non-identical twins, but only if one twin already had generalized anxiety disorder. (Durand, 2007 p.132). But later researched showed that what seemed to be inherited was the ability to become anxious rather than GAD itself. (p.132). It's amazing to know that people with GAD seem to show less responsiveness on most physiological measures, such as heart rate, blood pressure, skin conductance and respiration rate than do people with other anxiety disorders. (p.133).

Although it seems to prove that GAD is quite common, I am amazed that more people don't have this disorder. I think that many people have general anxieties on a daily basis, but most people are able to handle them successfully. I did not realize that most people with GAD have usually had symptoms of anxiety or feelings of being worried throughout life, but just didn't know when it all started. The criterion has changed over the years as well as doctors have become more knowledgeable about this disorder. I first had knowledge of this disease in 1997 when I noticed strange things happening.

He was not really watching as he stared directly at the television set. I would notice that he had no expressions at all; nothing during the humorous scenes, or the dramatic ones. He once told me that it was as if he was someone else, watching himself try to crawl out of his own skin. That was 10 years ago when I was married to this man who was suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. I didn't understand and I really didn't want to. I thought he was just being lazy and unmotivated. Although this disorder seems to be simple to others, it is quite alarming to the person who is suffering from it, and the onset is rather quick, whereas, treatments are difficult. Everyone experiences anxiety, but in most people, it does not last for months at a time.

The case study I am choosing is about James who is a doctor suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. At 31 years of age and living in New York, he is unemployed because of his constant anxiety, even at the thought of working. He now lives with his parents off a small trust fund set up for him by an uncle. Although he was an overachiever throughout his academic career, James is having a hard time keeping it together, while his parents are somewhat supportive but disappointed with his medical career. Let's see what we can learn about this horrible and crippling disorder.
'Generalized anxiety disorder is associated with irregular neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals across nerve endings. Neurotransmitters that seem to involve anxiety include norepinephrine, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), and serotonin.' (na, 2001). So it was thought that reduced levels of GABA initiated excessive anxiety, although neurotransmitters are much to complex to be interpreted that simply. (Durand, 2007 p.45).

The brain is a very fascinating and intricate part of who we are and if the brain is not functioning properly, then our reactions to certain situations are not in balance. This is why some people still believe that undeniable psychological disorders are said to be caused by biochemical imbalances. (Durand, 2007 p.50). So in James' case, his brain was not functioning right and he was experiencing an unnatural balance of change within his various neurotransmitters, causing him to become anxious, easily irritated, distracted and quite tense. He also complained of headaches, body aches and pains and always feeling tired.

Genetics does play a major role is determining whether a person will or will not have a psychological disorder. The textbook states that the research is beginning to acknowledge genes that relate to some psychological disorders. (Durand, 2007 p.70). I feel that genetics does contribute to some disorders, but I also think that the environment and society can cause debilitating stress to induce certain disorders, such as anxiety. If the gene linked to the disorder is dormant, a stress related incident can bring it to the surface, thus bringing on the disorder.
My research has shown that there are brain abnormalities indicated with generalized anxiety disorder. A study of 30 patients displayed that compared to 20 healthy volunteers, 11 patients had significant brain abnormalities mainly in the right temporal lobe. (Nutt, 2003 p.209). The temporal lobe controls the processes of recognizing various sights and sounds and long term memory storage. (Durand, 2007 p.48). However there are two temporal lobes on each side of the brain, located at the level of the ears. The lobes help a person distinguish one sound from another as well as one smell from the other. The right lobe controls visual memory while the left lobe controls verbal memory. (Johnson, 2006) So this would explain why James kept making mistakes because he was probably having a hard time remembering simple procedures.

The first thing James would need to do would be to seek professional help and see if he has this disorder, although being a medical doctor, he may have self diagnosed himself, however he should see a psychiatrist. There are no laboratory tests that can determine if a person has anxiety or a mental illness, but a doctor will perform a battery of tests to weed out other illnesses, such as an overactive thyroid gland, which can produce anxiety and its symptoms. (NA, 2007 WebMD).
James' next plan of attack would be to discuss the different types of medications that are available for providing relief from this disorder. Since James has generalized anxiety disorder, which has been called a 'free-floating' disorder because of his constant worrying and nervousness, as stated earlier, he would need a medication that treats low levels of GABA. (Roberts, ch.17 p.6). The textbook states that the drub benzodiazepine (minor tranquilizers) is the most frequently prescribed. (Durnad, 2007 p.134). The drug is used for short-term relief and can be hard to stop taking because of dependence issues. One such drug in particular is called Xanax, which is shown to enhance the function of GABA in the brain. It also slows down the central nervous system. This drug is extremely addicting; it's the drug my ex-husband did not want to give up, so we got a divorce.

There is also evidence that antidepressants can be used for GAD and may be a better choice. (p.134) The most common antidepressants are prozac and zoloft. 'These drugs are shown to affect the concentration and activity of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a chemical in the brain thought to be linked to anxiety disorders.' (na, 2004). Some of these drugs that I have researched for GAD, are also used for treating migraines, because I was prescribed some for headaches. No wonder I was always in a good mood, even though it felt like my head was about to explode.

Because the drugs prescribed for this disorder are recommended to be taken for short periods of time, therapy should be initialized as well. The side effects of these drugs are:
Xanax (benzodiazepines): drowsiness, fatigue, decreased concentration, confusion, blurred vision, pounding or irregular heartbeat, impaired coordination, short term memory problems, dizziness. (Smith et al, 2006).

Prozac (Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors): nausea, insomnia, headaches, decreased sex drive, dizziness, weight gain or loss, nervousness, sweating, drowsiness/fatigue, dry mouth, diarrhea or constipation, skin rashes. (Smith et al, 2006)
These medications offer so many side effects, it's a wonder anyone wants to take them at all. But I guess for the person who is suffering from anxiety attacks or generalized anxiety disorder, the side effects may be a welcomed relief

There are also natural remedies to help with GAD such as valerian root and kava kava, which has been treating anxiety for years, but the results are not well documented. (Smith et al, 2006) Some natural remedies can actually make anxiety worse and taking supplements may interact with the prescription anxiety medications, so it's a good idea to discuss this with a doctor.

Another approach to treatment is to help James with therapy sessions to try to figure out why he is experiencing all this anxiety and worry. One session may include showing James pictures of things that may make him anxious and then teaching him how to relax deeply to fight his tension. It's called cognitive behavioral treatment, developed in the early 1990s, and is quite successful; however we need both medications and therapy to treat GAD. (Durand, 2007 p.134).

Acupuncture, which is one medical treatment that does no harm to the body, only releases energy and gets it moving in the system; (NA, 2007) biofeedback, which is the ability to allow the patient hear or see feedback of their body's physiological state while relaxing;(Grohol, 2004) and hypnotherapy shown as an appropriate treatment modality for those individuals who are highly suggestible, have also been used to treat anxiety. (Grohol, 2004).

So which treatments work the best? That is hard to say because everyone is different and will react differently to each treatment. As stated in the textbook, a combined treatment of therapy and medications suggested there were no advantages for both, and that people did better in the long run when having psychological treatments only. (Durand, 2007 p.144). So it's suggested to start with psychological treatment first and then followed by drug treatments for the patients who are not responding to therapy. (p.144).

How does environment influence our behavior? Do we imitate what we see around us? Are we simply looking for acceptance, thereby, acting or saying what we think society expects? Who decides what acceptable behavior is? Although the environment may affect a person's behavior, there are many other elements to explore that influence the way we are.

James is coping with generalized anxiety disorder, as was stated earlier. At 31, he is allowing this disorder to control his life which is leading to being emotionally and physically drained. Although he realizes that he is an intelligent and capable person, he knows to avoid any situation that may exacerbate the anxieties that he is experiencing. With minimal support from his family and friends, James feels that he is dealing with this all alone and just wants to lead a normal life. Perhaps the stress and strain of becoming a doctor led to James' anxiety disorder as it may have been dormant within his genetic makeup, and is now just surfacing.

Many people develop generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) during adolescence, but do not seek professional help until they are adults. (NA, 2001). When they do finally get help, they claim they have been anxious and nervous all their lives. (2001). These people cannot just 'get over it' but society seems to not grasp that concept. Some of the environmental influences that could lead to general anxiety are:

• Work. This would affect James immensely because his whole life has been based around his becoming a doctor. Even his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and have a prestigious career.
• School. Although James did not experience anxieties until after he graduated from medical school, I'm sure he still felt anxious with tests and schoolwork.
• Relationships. This would be dealing with James' parents as they are somewhat supportive but disappointed that his career has not been progressing. He also lost his relationship with his girlfriend of three years because of the stress.
• Health. Because James is dealing with this disorder, his health is rapidly declining. He is having headaches, body aches and pains and is always tired. His emotional health is affected as well with feelings of laziness and worthlessness.
• Financial. James is realizing that if he cannot work, he cannot earn a paycheck. He is living off a small trust fund set up for him by his great uncle, but that won't last forever. All of these things are considered threats and can cause James to worry excessively which is interfering with his life.

Is the environment to blame for James' anxiety or is it more biological? I think that genetics and the environment work together to produce this disorder. I feel that if a person is genetically prone to have anxiety and fear; if the person never leaves the house, then what does he/she have to worry about? The environment has to play a role in the mobility of this disorder. If James were to isolate himself from the world, he would still have anxiety; however he would not be able to face his fears, thus restricting his life. His thought process would be 'what if this happened, or what if that happened?' He would always be having threatening thoughts and images playing over and over in his mind. (Alloy, 2006 p.189).

Our textbook states that GAD generally runs in families, which I mentioned earlier. (Durand, 2007 p.132). With all the research and studies that are performed, it will show that generalized anxiety disorder is inherited. So genetics and biology has to be the most important because people who aren't suffering from anxiety will react more favorable to a stressful situation, than someone who is suffering from GAD. It seems that we all have to face the same environmental influences, but the threat of each situation interacts with the biological aspect of a person, thus bringing on the symptoms of the disorder. (p.133).

James needs to be treated by a psychiatrist, not a family physician. He needs to be seen by someone who deals with psychological disorders daily and is educated with the treatments available. Psychological treatments work better in the long run and work just as well as prescription medication. Our textbook states that, 'as we learn more about generalized anxiety, we may find that helping people with this disorder to focus on what is actually threatening is useful.' (Durand, 2007 p.134).

Research has indicated that psychological treatments work very well for children who suffer from GAD. (Durand, 2007 p.135). But I feel that unless a child is diagnosed early in life, the treatments won't be as effective. I'm sure that James was experiencing some form of anxiety as a child, but children are difficult to diagnose, and if the parents don't know what to look for, they won't know the child needs help. But children respond to cognitive-behavioral treatments along with family therapy. (p.135).

I feel that psychosocial treatments would be the best way to start with a patient. In James' case, I think he should start with therapy for at least three months. He needs to confront the fear, phobias and anxieties head on to figure out what's making him feel emotionally and physically drained. I would also suggest to James that he should educate and read everything he can on this disorder. Having this knowledge will benefit him so he may get the most out of his treatments. If I had a disorder, I would want to know everything about it. And I would be asking a million questions. Sometimes I feel that everyone in society could use some form of therapy to deal with the stressors of life.

Next, I would try medications in addition to therapy to help James with possible other symptoms of GAD, such as depression. (Smith et al, 2006). The medication, however, would only be used on a temporary basis, as addiction can occur. My ex-husband was on medication for his GAD, but he was not seeing anyone for therapy. I think that was the biggest problem. He was increasing his dosage without telling his doctor, thus becoming extremely dependent on the drugs. As a doctor, James should know that some of the medications used for GAD are very addictive and hopefully would only be used as directed.

There are certain beliefs about thoughts and thought processes that are included in cognitive forms. (Papageorgiou, 2004 p.228). 'There are two types of worries; Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 worries deal with external daily events such as the welfare of a partner, and non-cognitive internal events such as concerns about bodily sensations. Type 2 worries are focused on the nature and occurrence of thoughts themselves such as worrying that worry will lead to insanity. It's basically worry about worry.' (Wells, 1997 p.202). The cognitive model claims that the varieties of worry are typically type 2 worries in which the patients negatively appraise the activity of worrying. (p 202).
I feel that the cognitive psychological model best applies to understanding and treating this disorder. I believe that by using cognitive therapies and similar research studies, we can begin to know what it takes to treat the people who are suffering with better results now and in the future.
There are new medications that can help people with GAD, but there are side effects that may be too harsh or severe. I believe that more psychosocial therapies may need to be developed in order to help these people, so they can live a normal life without medications, because of the problems they present to the body.

I believe that James could once again become a successful doctor if and when he gets his generalized anxiety disorder under control. The treatments are available; all he has to do is seek them out. I feel that with therapy coupled with medications would benefit James tremendously. Eventually he will be able to stop taking the medications and perhaps enjoy a fairly normal life. The good news is that only 4% of the population meets the criteria for GAD during a given one-year period. However it is still one of the most common anxiety disorders. (Durand, 2007 p.132). .
My research for this paper has helped me so far in understanding what a person is going through with crippling anxiety. It's not something that a person can just 'get over' and I know I wanted to tell my ex-husband that many, many times. However, he became addicted to the prescriptions drugs, and became a drug addict in about two weeks. Because of my first hand experience with this disorder, I chose to do my projects on it.


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