Understanding General Anxiety Disorder

Understanding General Anxiety Disorder
Understanding General Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
What is GAD?

GAD is a chronic or exaggerated form of the anxieties people experience on a daily basis. Sometimes the source of extreme worry is easy to pinpoint, other times it is much more difficult. Often people with GAD simple worry about getting through the day with no specifically identified worry. Regardless, this disorder can prevent them from functioning normally, making it difficult to sleep, hard to relax and causing physical symptoms like headaches, irritability, trembling and many more. The disorder can range from fairly mild to extremely debilitating. It important to understand why it is termed “generalized”. The disorder does not generally speak to specific fears, anti-social behavior, panic attacks, and feeling contaminated like other anxiety disorders. It is not the result of trauma or drug use. It is simply a more extreme version of the worry and feelings many of us feel each day.


GAD results from an imbalance or irregular levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. The associated chemicals are norepinephrine and serotonin. Research has revealed a genetic link as well as a learned-behavior based environment contributing to this disorder. Often it is a combination of factors that lead to developing GAD.


Diagnosis usually results from the individual eventually seeking help for chronic physical symptoms like insomnia, tension, headaches, etc. Once physical causes are ruled out form a doctor, a mental health physician can begin questioning and narrowing it down to a form of anxiety. Often these anxiety disorders are not alone, but rather come in two’s, three’s or more. GAD can be more difficult to diagnose because often the symptoms do not produce as dramatic actions/results as other disorders.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – this form of therapy is about retraining the individuals in how they think and perceives themselves and the world around them. Often, people with disorders suffer from a distorted view of how things really are. A therapist may begin by challenging the negative thoughts that the individual focuses on. CBT generally consists of five components:

  • Education – this is about becoming educated on the cognitive and physical behaviors that promote anxiety.
  • Monitoring – this is about monitoring anxiety and discovering the triggers for intense feelings.
  • Physical control strategies – addresses methods for countering feelings of generalized anxiety like breathing techniques or other relaxation processes.
  • Cognitive control strategies – this is about challenging and understanding negative thoughts. The individual learns to rethink how worrying plays a part in their life.
  • Behavioral strategies – this component focuses on attacking situations that cause feelings of anxiety. It is about addressing these stressful situations head on to see how manageable they really are.


Buspirone – a very safe anti-anxiety drug with no addictive or sedative properties.

Benzodiazepines – an anti-anxiety drug used in more sever anxiety cases; these drugs are very addictive but provide rapid relief.

Antidepressants – there are many different antidepressants prescribed for GAD with the primary drawback being significant time before they take effect.

It is important to note that medication is best used on a temporary basis; long term improvement often stems from treatments outlined in CBT.

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