Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Excessive, Exaggerated, and Chronic Worry

Generalized anxiety disorder is a relatively common mental illness. In the USA GAD affects 6.8 million USA adults annually (3.1% of the population.). The chance that any given person in this country will develop the disorder over a lifetime is estimated...


Steve, a 41 year old law enforcement sergeant, is constantly plagued by worry. He always feels physically and emotionally tense and is often irritable, quick tempered and keyed-up expecting the worst. 

He spends hours each day worrying about his career, his health, his financial situation, and his wife and two preteen sons. However, none of these issues are in distress or jeopardy. He knows that his worries are excessive, yet, he can’t shut off the thoughts that constantly run through his mind. He also has many physical symptoms related to his anxiety.  His concentration at work is off; he can’t stay focused, and often feels like his mind is drawing a blank.  Every day it seems like is worrying increases, people are concerned—so is he.  This is not a good place to be as Sgt, let alone an officer. 

Additionally, he frequently feels sad and lonely; he is unable to enjoy most aspects of his life because of his constant and excessive worries.  Things are increasingly spinning out of control.  Steve eventually goes to his physician and is diagnosed with having a generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized anxiety disorder is a relatively common mental illness. In the USA GAD affects 6.8 million USA adults annually (3.1% of the population.).  The chance that any given person in this country will develop the disorder over a lifetime is estimated at 9%.  GAD affects twice as many women as it does men.  The disorder usually comes on gradually, but can become chronic.  The good news is that current research indicates that generalized anxiety is a fully treatable disorder and can be successfully overcome in as little as 3-4 months.  The bad news is that only 1/3 of suffers seek treatment. 

Anxiety is a common reaction to the stress of everyday life or to particular situations. Everyone feels anxious from time to time.   It is a normal response to stress. There are two elements to the stress response. The 1st is the perception of the challenge. The 2nd is an automatic physiological reaction commonly referred to as the fight or flight response which initiates a surge of adrenaline in your bloodstream places your body on red alert.  Daily stress comes from the demands and pressures we experience regularly. Long lines at the gas station, a colicky baby, rush hour traffic, a phone ringing nonstop, or a chronic illness are all examples of things that can cause stress on a daily basis.  Anxiety is associated with feelings of uneasiness, fear, worry or dread.  The hallmark symptom of anxiety is worry.  Worrying is feeling uneasy or being overly concerned about a current or probable situation or problem.  An individual may suffer from chronic anxiety that can be considered mild, moderate or severe.  Most people with GAD have mild symptoms that do not significantly affect their interactions socially or in the work place. 

While mild anxiety may cause slight physical or psychological discomfort; severe anxiety can be severely debilitating, making it difficult to carry out even the most ordinary daily activities.  This type of anxiety is diagnosed as general anxiety disorder if the symptoms have lasted over six months. Individuals with a generalized anxiety disorder worry excessively.  This anxiety is often free-floating and is not triggered by any one issue.   Individuals spend extensive energy thinking, dwelling and ruminating on the “what ifs?”  People with a generalized anxiety disorder live their lives always anticipating disaster.  If a child is ten minutes late a parent with GAD will fear the worst…there was a terrible accident, paramedics are surely transferring him to a hospital, maybe his injuries are fatal, what am I do?  Generalized anxiety symptoms can fluctuate from hour to hour, from day to day.  Some do better in the morning, others at night.  Sufferers will describe "good days" and "bad days".   While many people with GAD appear fine on the surface, behaving normally, seemingly calm and relaxed, their thoughts, emotions and beliefs are in intense and persistent turmoil

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