When Worry Becomes Anxiety: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Worry is a normal emotion which is experienced as anxiety. People worry about finances (or lack thereof), their kids, their health, their jobs. . . Or they worry about the state of the economy, the high cost of living, and so on.  The only people that don’t worry are people with no stressors in their lives, and do you actually know anyone like that?

Me neither.

When once-in-awhile or moderate worrying pops up in our lives, there are some self-help techniques that we can use to help rid us of that worrisome thinking.  But what about worry that develops into extreme anxiety?

When worrying becomes so pervasive in a person’s life that it keeps him or her from functioning well, it can develop into Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  HelpGuide talks about the difference between normal worries and GAD here.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, symptoms of GAD include:

  • An inability to shake off anxieties
  • An inability to relax – a person with GAD is often easily startled
  • Difficulties with concentration
  • Insomnia:  Difficulty in not only falling asleep, but also staying asleep

GAD sufferers may also have problems with fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, aches and pains, trouble swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability and a variety of other physical concerns.  There’s no question that this disorder wreaks havoc on people’s lives.

It should be noted that some physical conditions may cause symptoms of anxiety, including hypo- or hyperthyroidism, low blood sugar, heart disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)  and even menopause (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2011). If those conditions can be ruled out by a doctor, a person may have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

You can find out about the risk factors for GAD at the Mayo Clinic website.

So how is this mental health condition treated?  Prescription medications (certain types of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs) are often used.  While medications may help for the short-term, many have side effects, and can be habit-forming.  It’s best to combine a limited used of medication along with therapy to deal with the root of the anxiety problem.

The most common psychotherapy used for GAD is:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – The patient learns about GAD in order to understand it better.  He/she is taught to monitor their anxiety levels and what triggers their anxiety. He/she is then taught relaxation techniques, thought-changing techniques, and behavioral techniques to deal with the anxiety.

Biofeedback is another treatment option. As described in Wikipedia, “Biofeedback is the process of gaining greater awareness of many physiological functions primarily using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biofeedback) In the case of GAD, the biofeedback would be used to teach the patient how to become more relaxed.

WebMD also describes some lifestyle modifications that go along with therapy.


Mayo Clinic Staff. Sep. 2011. Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Pertinent Websites:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Mayo Clinic: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Tips for coping with GAD