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July 23, 2014
by Cathy England, MA

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

July 23, 2014 04:55 by Cathy England, MA  [About the Author]

Is it Worry or Anxiety?

It is not uncommon for people to experience worry from time to time.  This can come in the form of worry over an upcoming deadline, concern about a sick loved one, or stress about a financial situation.  For most people, that type of worry is time limited and is affected or brought on by a specific situation. In other words in typical instances, the person can identify the reason for their anxiety. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is much more serious than this example.  In many cases, this type of anxiety diagnosis is due to ongoing worry about non-specific events that lingers over a period of time. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (n.d.), GAD is found in approximately 3.1% of the American population.  This translates into a figure of 6.8 million adults in the country.  This type of diagnosis is more common after the age of 30, and is more prevalent in women than in men.  A diagnosis generally takes a period of observation because one of the criteria for diagnosis is that the symptoms exist for 6 months or more. 

There are some common symptoms that are found in individuals with this diagnosis.

·       Inability to relax- The individual may understand that the level of worry and concern is not warranted, but they are unable to interrupt their worries.  This leads to tension and an inability to relax in most situations.

·       Easy to startle- Because these individuals are often experiencing tension and may be distracted, they startle easily and strongly.

·       Concentration and memory problems- When constant worry and repetitive thoughts are part of everyday life, it interferes with an individual’s ability to focus on tasks at hand.  They may complain of concentration issues and find themselves easily distracted.

·       Insomnia- Because of the pervasive worry, people with GAD often struggle with sleep and may have serious problems with insomnia.  It is difficult for them to relax and stop the thoughts so that they can have productive and restful sleep.

·       Physical manifestations- Chest pain and discomfort and an inability to breathe comfortably are often found in people with GAD. There may also be tremors of the extremities in addition to muscle pain and other symptoms.

Penney, Mazmanian, and Rudanycz (2013), discovered that people with GAD may have negative feelings about their worry.  So, they often worry about the worry.  For this reason, they begin to equate the worry with being dangerous.  This continues an unhealthy cycle for the individual.  Common approaches to treatment include the use of psychotropic medications often in the form of anti-depressants, or anti-anxiety medication.  Additionally, it may be recommended that an individual receive psychotherapy.  In many instances, a combination of both treatments is common (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). 

Blame It On Your Parents

There is also some strong suggestion that anxiety can have a hereditary link.  Hettema, Prescott, and Kendler (2004) examined GAD and the trait of Neuroticism as they related to family history and prevalence.  Their findings supported the theory that the two shared a common genetic predisposition. They also examined environmental factors, but found a much weaker correlation.  Often a health care professional will ask a patient about family history to get some suggestion of genetic predisposition.

If an individual is experiencing extreme, pervasive worry that is interfering with their daily lives, it is likely that professional treatment is the best option.  However, some people are able to cope with their anxiety through less invasive means.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.) there are alternative treatments for GAD.  These include techniques such as yoga and meditation that can address problems with relaxation and tension.  There is also some research that shows that acupuncture can be helpful for people who are experiencing symptoms of GAD.  Some herbal remedies such as Kava have also been effective in some cases.  The use of “grounding techniques” are also a popular way to deal with anxious thoughts.  It is important to realize that such methods will not be effective for everyone, and that even a trip to a general practitioner can identify when anxiety is more than someone can handle.

Don't Ignore The Signs

Anxiety sometimes gets ignored or diminished because worry is quite common in many people.  However persistent, pervasive and distressing worry is important to pay attention to.  Over time, anxiety often gets worse and not better without some intervention.  It can create a cycle that can be difficult to interrupt. If the individual is unsure if they have serious anxiety, a trip to the family doctor can often start them on the path of receiving appropriate treatment.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America (n.d.). Complementary and alternative treatment. Retrieved from

Hettema, J. M., Prescott, C. A., & Kendler, K. S. (2004). Genetic and environmental sources of covariation between generalized anxiety disorder and neuroticism. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(9), 1581-7.

Mayo Clinic (n.d.) Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved from

Penney, A. M., Mazmanian, D., & Rudanycz, C. (2013). Comparing positive and negative beliefs about worry in predicting generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 45(1), 34-41.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institutes of Mental Health.  (n.d.). Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved from 

About the Author

Cathy England, MA Cathy England, MA

Cathy holds a Master’s degree in Psychology and has 13 years of work experience in counseling and social work. Cathy is an advocate for mental health awareness and enjoys educating people about mental health and the ways that it impacts people and communities. Most of her experience has been in work with court dependent or delinquent adolescents and their families. Cathy has also worked as a volunteer as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children under court supervision.

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