What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Experiencing anxiety and worry throughout life is normal. When an individual experiences prolonging intense worry and/or anxiety there is a high likelihood of them developing generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), 5th edition, defines generalized anxiety disorder as the following:

  • The presence of excessive anxiety and worry.
  • Worry occurs more often than not for six months or more and is clearly excessive.
  • The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.
  • The worry and anxiety is accompanied by at least three of the following and is present more often than not for the past six months:
    • Edginess or restlessness
    • Fatigued more than usual
    • Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind has gone blank.
    • Observable and/or non observable irritability.
    • Increased muscle tension.
    • Difficulty sleeping brought on by trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep.

Causes and Risk Factors

Generalized anxiety disorder is caused by a mix of environmental and biological factors. When given the proper tools to combat them, the risk is lower. However, acquiring the tools can be challenging within itself.

Individuals could be at risk due to one or more of the following environmental and biological factors:

  • Chronic stress
  • Family history of anxiety and/or mood disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Catastrophic environmental/social events
    • Divorce
    • Loss of a loved one
    • Hurricane
    • War
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Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

One of the most important steps on the road to recovery is being able to identify the symptoms to properly diagnose. Symptoms of GAD can be characterized as physical or mental but can also be observable or unobservable. Such as the following:

  • Excessive worrying
  • Trouble controlling the worry
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Trouble relaxing/restless
  • Easily startled
  • Trouble getting adequate sleep/rest
  • Fatigue, easily tired
  • Aches and pains
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • tremble/twitch
  • Irritability
  • Sweat easily and a lot
  • Feeling lightheaded or out of breath
  • Frequent bathroom visits

Children, teens, and adults are subject to experiencing the symptoms. Additionally, they can fluctuate over time and can worsen during stress. These symptoms can make it hard for the individual to function in their day to day.

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Negative Health Effects

Excessive worrying and anxiety can negatively impact your health. When an individual is constantly worrying or experiencing anxiety it can lead to chronic stress. While experiencing stress is inevitable throughout life, developing an efficient way to manage it is important for your health in the long run. Cortisol, the stress hormone, acts as our body’s natural alarm system. However prolonged exposure to cortisol can be detrimental to your health. Research has found that reducing levels of cortisol can improve anxiousness in individuals. The inability to reduce stress brought on from worrying and anxiety can negatively impact multiple body systems. Such as, the cardiovascular system and digestive system. Additionally, cognitive processes can be impacted such as memory function.

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Who is Affected By Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Unfortunately no one is immune to generalized anxiety disorder. It affects children, teens, and adults, as well as, males and females. The reasons behind GAD vary with age group, however, they are generally similar. Below we will explore some reasons why people experience anxiety:


  • Performance at school or sports
  • Catastrophes (war, natural disasters)
  • Social expectations
  • Health/wellbeing of loved ones


  • Job security/performance
  • Health/wellbeing of themselves and their loved ones
  • Money
  • Day to day responsibilities
  • Being late

Also, individuals who excessively use caffeine and/or tobacco products are more likely to trigger and worsen their anxiety.

Treatment Options For Generalized Anxiety Disorder


Counseling and therapy is a standard treatment for generalized anxiety disorder. This might include psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or other forms of counseling.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is one of the most common forms of psychotherapy used for generalized anxiety disorder. This form of psychotherapy helps a sufferer to be made aware of negative thought patterns they may be experiencing that can trigger disturbed feelings. CBT also can help you change the way you react to these negative feelings.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

While DBT shares similar qualities to other cognitive-behavioral approaches, certain elements are required to distinguish it. Such as:

  • Serving the five functions of treatment:
    • Motivating the client
    • Teaching skills
    • Generalizing skills to natural environments
    • Motivating and improving therapy skills
    • Structuring the treatment environment
  • Biosocial theory
  • Focusing on emotions in treatment
  • Consistent dialectical philosophy
  • Mindfulness and acceptance-oriented interventions

Dialectical philosophy poses the idea that each opposing force is incomplete on its own. Such as, focusing completely on change-oriented efforts leaves no room for acceptance of the patient and focusing on complete acceptance of the patient can be ineffective due to the requirement of extensive changes in their lives.

DBT strives to set in place explicit rules for success by replacing behaviors that are unhealthy, self-defeating, and self-damaging, with healthy coping skills and behaviors. In order to be successful there has to be motivation and patience from both the therapist and the patient.


Lifestyle changes can have a big impact on your mental health, including those who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. These daily lifestyle changes can include:

  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Having a spiritual or religious practice
  • Implementing a meditation practice
  • Eating healthy
  • Avoiding alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, and caffeinated beverages

For some, implementing lifestyle changes is enough to reduce anxiety levels. However, for some, therapy is needed.


Medications are often common treatments for anxiety disorders. Medicines can help you control some of the physical or mental symptoms that Generalized Anxiety Disorder brings. Some common medications include: SSRIs, Tricyclics, and Benzodiazepines.

How We Treat

Resilience DBT & Eating Recovery are a team of Outpatient Therapists in New Jersey, Florida, Maryland. If you or a loved one suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, we are here to help. Our team of dedicated specialists and clinicians strive to help anyone suffering come out on the other end with viable tools for long term success. Do not give up, a full recovery is within your grasp. The first step starts here!

How do I begin?

Our team is dually and expertly trained in the Treatment of Eating Disorders and DBT for Mental Health. Our Evidenced-Based approaches include FBT, CBT-E, DBT-ED, and Comprehensive DBT for co-occurring mental health conditions. Our outpatient practice has helped Children, Teens and Adults achieve full Eating Disorder Recovery and Mental Health Stability for over 25 years.


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