What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

"I just dread being alone at night. I don’t know why, but I do......"

"My thoughts won’t shut off. They’re constantly running, making me worry, worry, worry......"

"Will I ever be my old self again?"

"I can’t remember ever feeling relaxed and calm....What would that be like?"

"I’m always on edge....."

"I hate having to go to work now. I haven’t always been this way....."

Generalized anxiety disorder is a relatively common anxiety problem, affecting 3-4% of the population, that turns daily life into a state of worry, anxiety, and fear. Excessive thinking and dwelling on the "what ifs" characterizes this anxiety disorder. As a result, the person feels there’s no way out of the vicious cycle of anxiety and worry, and becomes depressed about life and the chronic state of anxiety they find themselves in.

Generalized anxiety usually does not cause people to avoid situations, and there isn’t an element of a "panic attack" involved in the prognosis, either.


It’s the thinking, thinking, thinking,
dwelling, dwelling, ruminating, ruminating,
and inability to shut the mind off

that so incapacitates the person. At other times, thoughts seem almost non-existent because the anxious feelings are so dominant. Feelings of worry, dread, lack of energy, and a loss of interest in life are common. Many times there is no "trigger" or "cause" for these feelings and the person realizes these feelings are irrational. Nevertheless, the feelings are very real. At this point, there is no "energy" or "zest" in life and no desire to want to do much.

This emotional fear and worry can be quite strong. If a loved one is ten minutes late, the person with generalized anxiety fears the very worst -- something’s dreadfully wrong (after all, they’re ten minutes late!), there’s been an accident, the paramedics are taking the person to the hospital and his injuries are just too critical to resuscitate him....."Oh, my God!.....WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?" Feelings of fear and anxiety rush in from these thoughts, and the vicious cycle of anxiety and depression runs wild.

Some people with generalized anxiety have fluctuations in mood from hour to hour, whereas others have "good days" and "bad days". Others do better in the morning, and others find it easier at the end of the day. These anxiety feelings and moods feed on themselves, leading the person to continue in the pattern of worry and anxiety -- unless something powerful breaks it up.

Physical manifestations 

The physical manifestations of generalized anxiety may include headaches, trembling, twitching, irritability, frustration, and inability to concentrate. Sleep disturbances may also occur. Elements of social anxiety and/or panic may sometimes be present, such as high levels of self-consciousness in some situations, and fear of not being able to escape from enclosed spaces.

It is also common, but not universal, for people with generalized anxiety to experience other problems, such as a quick startle response, a lack of ability to fully relax, and the propensity to be in a state of constant motion. It is difficult for some people with generalized anxiety to settle down enough to have a quiet, reflective time where they can calm down, relax, and feel some peace and tranquility. Strategies to peacefully calm down and relax are one part in overcoming this problem.

Normal life stresses aggravate generalized anxiety. The person who typically performs well at work and receives a sense of accomplishment from it, all of a sudden finds that work has become drudgery. If work is perceived as a negative environment, and the person no longer feels fulfilled, then considerable worry takes place over these situations. As a result, the anticipatory anxiety about going to work can become quite strong.

Generalized anxiety has been shown to respond best to cognitive-behavioral therapy, an active therapy that involves more than just talking to a therapist. In CBT, the person gradually learns to see situations and problems in a different perspective and learns the methods and techniques to use to alleviate and reduce anxiety. Sometimes medication is a helpful adjunct to therapy, but for many people it is not necessary. Research indicates that generalized anxiety is fully treatable and can be successfully overcome over the course of about three to four months if the person is motivated and works toward recovery.

Generalized anxiety must be chipped away from all sides and that is what CBT is designed to do. No one has to live with generalized anxiety disorder.  Treatment for GAD has been shown to be both effective and successful.

Please seek a therapist who understands anxiety and the anxiety disorders. Remember, that just because a person has a degree behind their name, does not mean they understand and can treat an anxiety disorder. Feel free to ask questions of any professional and make sure your therapist understands and knows how to treat generalized anxiety. It is usually a good idea to see a specialist in this area because they have a practice that is geared toward the anxiety disorders.

Our History and Our Mission

The Anxiety Network began in 1995 due to growing demand from people around the world wanting help in understanding and overcoming their anxiety disorder.  The Anxiety and Stress Clinic and its website, The Anxiety Network, received so much traffic and requests for help that we found ourselves spending the majority of our time in international communication and outreach.  Our in-person anxiety clinic has grown tremendously, and our principal internet tool, The Anxiety Network, has been re-written and re-designed with focus on the major anxiety disorders.  

The Anxiety Network  focuses on three of the major anxiety disorders:  panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder,  and social anxiety disorder.

In 1997, The Social Anxiety Association, a non-profit organization, was formed and has its own website.

The Social Anxiety Institute, the largest site on the internet for information and treatment of social anxiety, has maintained an active website since 1998.  Continuous, ongoing therapy groups have helped hundreds of people overcome social anxiety since 1994.  Major changes in design will be occurring in 2014.

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