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When You Can’t Stop Worrying

Published on Jan 25, 2017

Life can be stressful, and most people may feel anxious time to time. But for some, the fear and worry is not a temporary feeling. In fact, the anxiety associated with anxiety disorder is excessive, persistent, and unrealistic. Imagine not being able to control the worry or worrisome thought so much that it’s hard to perform at work or school, or even carry out simple, routine tasks. Imagine expecting something bad to happen when there is no apparent reason for concern.
This describes a condition called generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, GAD affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S.

Who gets GAD?

Most cases of GAD begin in early adulthood, though it can occur in children and older adults. Women are affected more than men. The exact cause of GAD is not known; however, family background, and having stressful life experiences, or even traumatic events as a child or as an adult (e.g., physical or sexual abuse, neglect, alcoholism/addiction), may also be contributing factors.

This condition is more commonly seen in people who also suffer from depression. And more than 35% of people with GAD may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to relieve their anxiety.

What are the signs and symptoms?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5™), GAD symptoms include excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities—and occurs more days than not for at least 6 months. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms:

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge.
  • Being easily fatigued.
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
  • Irritability.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).

In GAD, the anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause distress, and impair social, occupational, or other important areas of life. These symptoms cannot be caused by another medical condition.

If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, a good first step is to speak to your doctor.

How is it treated?

Treatment for GAD generally includes psychotherapy (such as counseling or behavioral therapy), medication, or both. Work with your healthcare team to create a treatment plan that best suits you—then stick with it. If a medication is prescribed, it’s important to take it as directed. Be sure to keep your medical appointments as well.

Keeping a healthy, balanced lifestyle can also be beneficial. Some lifestyle changes that can help manage GAD symptoms include:

  • Relaxation techniques to help calm you down.
  • Exercise. Go for a walk, jog, do yoga, dance, or just get moving.
  • Limiting caffeine, especially caffeinated beverages such as coffee or tea. Caffeine can trigger anxiety symptoms and interfere with your sleep.
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco.
  • Eating healthy and balanced meals. Include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Talking to friends or family or a support group.
  • Keeping regular sleep habits.

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]


  • 1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Accessed October 28, 2016.
  • 2. Smith M and Segal J. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD): Symptoms, self help, and treatment to break free from chronic anxiety. Helpguide Web site. Accessed October 28, 2016.
  • 3. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety disorders. Accessed October 28, 2016.
  • 4. Stein MB and Sareen J. Generalized anxiety disorder. NEJM. 2015 Nov 19; 373(21): 2059-2068. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp1502514.
  • 5. Moreno-Peral P, Conejo-Ceron S, Motrico E, Rodriguez-Morejon A et al. Risk factors for the onset of panic and generalized anxiety disorders in the general adult population: A systematic review of cohort studies. J Affect Disord. 2014 Jun 19; 168(2014): 337-348. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.06.021
  • 6. Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005 Jun; 62: 617-627. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.617
  • 7. Robinson J, Sareen J, Cox BJ, Bolton JM. Role of self-medication in the development of comorbid anxiety and substance use disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011 Aug; 68(8): 800-807. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.75
  • 8. American Psychiatric Association. Generalized anxiety disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA; 2013: 222.
  • 9. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Generalized anxiety disorder. Accessed October 28, 2016.
  • 10. Tartakovsky M. Living with an anxiety disorder. PsychCentral Web site. Accessed October 28, 2016.
  • 11. Depression Tool Kit. Sticking with your plan. University of Michigan Depression Toolkit Web site. November 11, 2016.
External Resources

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