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Generalized Anxiety Disorder: An Overview

Updated on December 15, 2009

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines Generalized Anxiety Disorder as "An anxiety neurosis or state characterized by an overall anxious mood lasting at least one month and including such symptoms as jitteriness, sweating, feelings of catastrophe concerning one's family or self, and irritability.  About 4 million Americans suffer from this disorder every year.  It is more common in women than men and most commonly starts in childhood or adolescence, however, it has also been known to onset in adulthood as well.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is characterized by exaggerated and excessive worries regarding life's typical daily events with no apparent reason to worry about such events.  People with GAD, can't stop worrying about everyday things such as family, work, school, health, or money.  Typically the amount and degree of worry is not in proportion with the for the situation.  Unrealistic worrying by those affected with this disorder turns their daily life in to a continuous, never-ending state of angst, anguish and apprehension.  Constant anxiety eventually overrules logical thinking to the point that it hinders daily functioning including relationships, social activities, work and school.

What are the Symptoms of GAD?

Generalized anxiety disorder alters the way a person normally thinks, but can lead to actual physical symptoms also.  These symptoms may or may not include:

  • Excessive, ongoing worry or tension
  • Unrealistic view of problems
  • Restlessness or feeling "edgy"
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea
  • Frequent need to go to the bathroom
  • Tiredness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trembling
  • Being easily startled

It should also be said that it is common place for people with Generalized Anxiety Disorders to have other anxiety type disorders such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias.  It is also very likely that they suffer from depression, and/or abuse drugs and/or alcohol.

What are the Causes of GAD?

The exact causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder are not completely known, but there are a few things that seem to be instrumental in it's development such as:

  • Genetics - Although anxiety hasn't been proven to be inherited in whole, research is suggesting that a persons family history may very well play a part in an increased likelihood that a person could develop GAD.  It is the tendency to develop, not the disorder itself that is passed from one family member to the next.
  • Brain Chemistry - Abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters have been associated with those displaying GAD.  Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that play an important part in moving information from nerve cell to nerve cell.  If there is an imbalance in the neurotransmitters messages can not travel through the brain properly and could result in alteration of the way the brain reacts to certain situations, which could result in anxiety.
  • Environmental Factors - Certain trauma and stressful events can lead to GAD.  Some of these events could be abuse, death of a loved one, changing of a job or school, or divorce.  These events could also worsen in a person already having GAD.  Some other things that can worsen GAD are withdrawals from addictive substances such as caffeine, nicotine, alcohol or drugs.

Treatment of GAD

Before a doctor will medically treat a patient for Generalized Anxiety Disorder he must first certain physical illnesses which share common symptoms of GAD.  A diagnosis from a doctor for GAD is based on intensity and duration of the symptoms as well as how those symptoms interfere with a person's daily functioning.

If a diagnosis of GAD is reached, you may be referred to a mental health specialist who is specially trained in the treatment of these types of disorders such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.  Typically treatment of Generalized Anxiety Disorder is two-part, consisting of medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Medication is especially helpful with the treatment of anxiety for people who have associated interference in their daily functioning.  The drugs commonly used to treat GAD fall in a category of tranquilizers because of their calming and relaxing properties.  These calming and relaxing properties work in treating tension and restlessness in GAD patients.  Some common tranquilizer type drugs used for treatment are Ativan, Xanax and Valium.  Some antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft and Effexor are being used to successfully treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  The antidepressants don't work as quickly to treat the disorder, typically taking a few weeks to get the full effects, but they seem to be better suited for long term treatment.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is commonly used for people affected with anxiety disorders.  In this therapy learns to recognize disruptive thought patterns.  Once recognized, they can apply learned skills to change thought patterns and behaviors with lead to anxious feelings.  This therapy helps a patient to limit distorted thinking by learning how to more realistically evaluate worrisome thoughts.

In addition to these two treatments, there are many different types of "natural" treatments to help GAD sufferers control and deal with the physical symptoms of anxiety.  Some of these things are relaxation techniques, mediation, deep-breathing and biofeedback to name a few.  Each person must determine what medication, therapies, techniques or combination of all will work best for them.  Some people who suffer from anxiety are able to manage the disorder with natural cures, while others rely heavily on medication.  If you think you may be suffering symptoms of severe anxiety or Generalized anxiety disorder, seek the advice of your medical doctor immediately.  People who receive treatment are able to live normal lives and function in daily life with little difficulty.


There are some things you can try on your own to help manage your anxiety or assist in your medical treatment.  These Simple Remedies for Dealing with Anxiety, Fear and Worry are not to be used instead of treatment.  If you can not manage your anxiety on your own, always seek the advice of a medical professional.


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