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What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder



Temporary anxiety is a part of life. You might experience anxiety when you are approaching a deadline or about to have a difficult conversation. Often, our anxious response is used as an informant for our feelings about something that is about to happen that goes away after a little while. For some, however, anxiety or worry does not dissipate; in fact, it sticks around and worsens with time. [1]


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a variety of things. It is diagnosed when a person finds it difficult to control these worries on more days than not for at least 6 months and has three or more symptoms (see below). These worries interfere with daily life, relationships, school, work or social interactions.


Individuals with GAD often realize that the anxiety they are experiencing is more extreme than whatever the situation or event requires, but struggle to stop the worry and feel that it is beyond their control to do so.



The signs and symptoms vary and may also fluctuate over time based on internal or external stressors, such as illness, family/relationship conflict and work or school pressure.


Some of the symptoms include: [1][2]

  • Feeling restless and/or wired

  • Easily fatigued

  • Irritability

  • Muscle tension (including headaches, body aches, unexplained pain)

  • Difficulty controlling worrying thoughts

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Sleep troubles (falling asleep, restlessness, unsatisfying sleep)

  • Stomach aches and trouble

  • Startle easily

  • Are aware that they worry “too much”

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom

  • Tremble or twitch

  • Increased heart rate

  • Sense of impending doom/danger

  • Difficulty swallowing


There are a number of risk factors for developing GAD, including both genetic and environmental factors. The disorder can develop gradually and show up at any point throughout life. Family background and exposure to stressful events early in childhood, a history of anxiety or other mental illnesses in relatives or even physical health conditions can all play a role in the development of GAD. [1]


There are a variety of treatments that can help with GAD. Therapy that uses a cognitive behavioural approach, mindfulness based approaches and Acceptance Commitment Therapy may help individuals to address their symptoms in a more positive way.



Physical exercise is also a powerful tool in reducing symptoms of GAD as it decreases muscle tension, boosts anti-anxiety neurochemicals (serotonin, GABA, endocannabinoids) and so much more. [3] Other forms of mindful-based movement like yoga, meditation or breathing exercises can also be useful at down-regulating the nervous system, improving sleep, decreasing stress reactivity, and increasing resilience; thereby reducing and improving anxiety symptoms in those with GAD [4].


In addition, it could be helpful to remove or reduce certain foods or beverages, such as coffee, alcohol, soda, and/or caffeinated tea which can trigger anxiety.


Products such as supplements and aromatherapy have their place too. They can help get you through difficult times while you take care of these important lifestyle factors.


Written by Catrina McCrae, cohost of the Table for Three: You, Me and Anxiety podcast

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