Mental & Emotional Health

When It's More Than Just Anxiety

Although there’s a lot of talk about depression, another condition – Generalized Anxiety Disorder – doesn’t get nearly as much attention. And that can make it harder for friends and family to understand what’s happening when someone they love has GAD. Here, from the National Institute of Mental Health, are some things you should know:

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone worries. But people who suffer from GAD are extremely worried, the NIMH says, about many things, both significant and not, even when there’s not much reason to worry. They may even be anxious about just getting through the day, and they always anticipate a negative outcome.


The condition does run in families sometimes, the NIMH says, but the reason that some family members get it and others don’t is still not known. Several parts of the brain, the agency says, are linked to fear and anxiety. Scientists researching those areas may be able to come up with improved treatment. Additionally, environmental factors can play a role.

Signs & Symptoms

Even though many GAD sufferers realize that their worrying shouldn’t be so intense, they still cannot relax, the NIMH says. They also have difficulty concentrating and are likely to suffer from insomnia. There are physical symptoms as well, the agency says, including fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, having to go to the bathroom frequently, feeling out of breath, and hot flashes. The symptoms may be stronger or weaker at different times, and can be worse during times of stress.

How common is it?

GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults, the NIMH says, including twice as many women as men. The disorder develops gradually and can begin at any point in the life cycle, although the years of highest risk are between childhood and middle age.

How is it diagnosed?

Doctors will give a diagnosis of GAD when someone worries about a variety of everyday problems for at least six months. However, diagnosis isn’t always immediate or easy, since sufferers may ask their doctor for help in falling asleep, the NIMH says, rather than talking about an array of symptoms.


Usually, GAD is treated with psychotherapy, medication or both. A kind of therapy called cognitive behavior therapy is effective, according to the NIMH. That technique teaches people different ways of thinking and behaving when he or she is worried or anxious. Antidepressants may also help. But before you start taking them, the NIMH says, ask your doctor about side effects. Some antidepressants have the potential for very serious side effects, including an increase in suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Most insurance plans, including health maintenance organizations (HMOs), will cover treatment for anxiety disorders, the NIMH says. If your plan doesn’t cover it, or you don’t have health insurance at all, the agency advises checking with the Health and Human Services division of your county government. There may be care available at a public mental-health center. If your income levels qualify you, you m ay also get coverage through your state Medicaid plan.

Finding a good self-help or support group can also aid in recovery, the NIMH says. But the agency cautions against on-line groups, where people don’t really know each other and may even have false identities.
Other self-help strategies include doing aerobic exercise and avoiding caffeine and some over-the-counter cold medicines.

Also important in recovery is the support of a patient’s family. “Ideally, the family should be supportive but not help perpetuate their loved one’s symptoms,” the NIMH says. “Family members should not trivialize the disorder or demand improvement without treatment.”

For more information, visit the National Institute of Mental Health.

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