Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is a biological response which keeps you alert to possible dangers. In this sense, anxiety is not only normal but can also be helpful. Pathological anxiety deviates away from what could be considered normal or healthy; it causes such extreme unfounded anxiety that it inhibits your life.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are characterized as a group of 12 different disorders. These disorders range from various types of panic disorder to posttraumatic stress disorder to social phobia and all exhibit symptoms relating to anxiety. With generalized anxiety disorder, the anxiety occurs chronically without any specific trigger or cause.

If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you are worried about seemingly everything from your jobs, families and relationships to your health and appearance. These worries persist even when there is no basis for them. If you have generalized anxiety disorder, you also have negative thought patterns that cause you to only see the negative consequences that can occur.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

For people with generalized anxiety, the symptoms seem to pop up in all occasions.

Generalized anxiety disorder can cause physical symptoms such as fatigue, tense and aching muscles, problems with concentration and sleep, loss of appetite, and headaches. These physical symptoms can make you worry, thus furthering the anxiety disorder.

To properly diagnosis generalized anxiety disorder, it is important to rule out other mental disorders as a cause of the worries. For example, specific phobias would have to be ruled out.

Watch this video featuring real people who have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder.

How Many People Are Affected By Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that approximately 7 million American suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. In addition, women are diagnosed with this disorder twice as frequently as men. Worldwide, the rate of prevalence may be as high as 15%.

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

There are many possible causes of generalized anxiety disorder including biological, genetic and environmental. It is most likely occurs as a result of all of these factors.  Imbalances in brain chemistry may increase your response to stress, thus leading to generalized anxiety disorder. Significant evidence shows that generalized anxiety disorder may be hereditary. Children who have parents with the disorder are more likely to also develop it. In contrast, some experts believe that it is not genetics that causes the increased likelihood, but rather a learned responded. Finally, environmental factors such as chronic exposure to stress or traumas may result in the development of generalized anxiety disorder.

What Treatments For Anxiety Disorder Are Available?

Medical and behavioral treatments are available for generalized anxiety disorder. Anti-anxiety medications can take several weeks to significantly improve symptoms, but appear to be very effective. Medications such as sedatives or beta blockers may be beneficial for you if you suffer from severe anxiety symptoms.

In addition, options such as cognitive therapy teach you how retrain your thinking patterns and control anxiety. Beck, Emery and Greenberg, authors of “Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective” explain the AWARE strategy:

  • Accept The Anxiety. Replace your hatred of it with acceptance. By resisting, you’re prolonging its unpleasantness. Instead, flow with it. Don’t make it responsible for how you think, feel, and act.
  • Watch Your Anxiety. Rate it on a 0-to-10 scale and be detached. Remember, you’re not your anxiety. The more you can separate yourself from the experience, the more you can just watch  it.
  • Act with the anxiety. Act as if you aren’t anxious. Slow down if you have to, but keep going. Breathe slowly and normally. If you run from the situation your anxiety will go down, but your fear will go up. If you stay, both your anxiety and your fear will go down.
  • Repeat the steps. Continue to accept your anxiety, watch it, and act with it until it goes down to a comfortable level. And it will. Just keep repeating these three steps:  accept, watch, and act with it.
  • Expect the best. What you fear the most rarely happens. Recognize that a certain amount of anxiety is normal. By expecting future anxiety, you’re putting yourself in a good position to accept it when it comes again.

There are also many other therapeutic methods which have proven effective for treating generalized anxiety disorder, with or without medications. Only an experienced therapist can determine which approach he/she thinks will be most effective.

When Should I Seek Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

It is normal to become anxious from time to time so it can be difficult to detect abnormal levels of anxiety. If you excessively worry without merit, you may need to seek treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. If the anxiety is causing disruption from normal activities or impairing your relationships, then treatment may be necessary. You do not have to experience anxiety-related symptoms (such as panic attacks) before you seek treatment.

Where Can I Learn More Information?

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) offers information about identifying, understanding and living with generalized anxiety disorder as well as other anxiety disorders. If your anxiety is so severe that it interferes with your daily functioning, you should contact a mental health professional. The prognosis for generalized anxiety disorder is positive with the proper treatment.


Beck, A., Emery, G., & Greenberg, R. (2005). Anxiety disorders and phobias: A cognitive perspective (15th ed.). New York: Basic Books.

Kaplan, H. I., & Sadoc, B. J. (1996). Concise textbook of clinical psychiatry. Baltimore, MD: Williams & Wilkins.

Medscape. (n.d.) Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved from

Morrison, J. (2002). Straight talk about your mental health: Everything you need to know to make smart decisions. New York: Guildford Publications.

Preston, J. & Johnson, J. (2008). Clinical psychopharmacology made ridiculously simple. Miami, FL: MedMaster, Inc.


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