We all get anxious from time to time. It’s a natural part of life. It is estimated that 18 percent of the adults in America experience some form of anxiety. For some of us, however, day to day anxiety becomes something very different, making it difficult to even go about our daily lives. In an anxiety disorder, triggers inspire very strong emotional reactions and heightened anxiety that damages quality of life.

One difficulty is that only a small number of people with anxiety look for help. Increasing our knowledge and awareness of anxiety can help those with related disorders get the help they deserve.

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

In an anxiety disorder, the individual’s reactions to triggers are so intense that it prevents them from going about their daily lives. Since these individuals have a heightened reaction to even small stimuli, others can be judgmental, viewing the patient as overly dramatic or exaggerating. There is no exaggeration in an anxiety disorder; the symptoms are very real, and patients deserve compassion and care.

Different Types of Anxiety Disorders

There are different types of anxiety disorders out there. Each of them has their own set of triggers and symptoms. Familiarizing oneself with these different disorders can help dispel some of the myths around anxiety disorders. If you yourself experience anxiety, it may provide some clarity on your own situation, at which point you can discuss interventions with a counselor.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

At the heart of Generalized Anxiety Disorder is chronic anxiety that lasts for extended stretches of time. Diagnostic criteria states that a patient should experience anxiety for more days than not for at least six months in order to receive a diagnosis.

What Triggers Generalized Anxiety Disorder

As a chronic disorder, it is often ever-present things in life that trigger GAD, such as work, school or a relationship. A chronic physical illness, even, can trigger this condition. To compound the problem, some patients may even experience anxiety about having GAD, making things more difficult in the long run.

Biological Triggers for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Sometimes GAD presents in a person who has a relatively stable lifestyle. In these scenarios, there may be a biological trigger at play, such as a chemical imbalance. When a chemical imbalance is the cause, patients often begin to show symptoms during adolescence.

Science has not yet discovered a specific gene that causes GAD, but many mental health experts agree that it can run in families and that you are at a greater risk for the disorder if a close family member has it.

How Common Is It?

The ADAA estimates that around seven million people in the US have GAD, with a third of those presenting with severe symptoms. When symptoms are severe in GAD, the individual may not be able to do things as basic as shower or go to work, Still others may be able to function, but carry a good deal of pain and anxiety on the inside, in secret.

You are not alone, if you believe you have GAD. Contact our clinic to discuss your options with one of our counselors.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A patient with GAD can experience any of the following emotional and physical symptoms:

Mental and Emotional Symptoms
  • A sense of ever present dread
  • Perseveration
  • Feeling edgy
  • Insomnia or disordered sleep
  • Poor concentration skills
  • Poor decision making skills
  • Getting scared very easily
Physical Symptoms
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Trembling, shivering
  • Muscle aches and tension
  • Stomach issues
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Rapid heart rate
Symptoms in Children and Teens

Symptoms can vary in children and adolescents. They can include but are not limited to:

  • Fixation on apocalypse or disaster
  • Exhibiting perfectionist traits
  • Low self confidence
  • Requiring constant approval from authority figures
  • Stomach problems
  • Avoiding social interaction

Treating GAD

Treatment for GAD can include therapy, medication, or making lifestyle changes recommended by your therapist. At LifeStance Health, your counselor will work with you to develop a plan that answers directly to your specific case and needs.

One of the most effective therapies for GAD is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. This talk therapy allows the patient to learn about what triggers GAD and then build better coping skills.

If a chemical imbalance is a driver in your situation, working with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medications may be the best fit. Medications such as benzodiazepines and antidepressants have been shown to be effective in these cases.

Panic Attack

Those with GAD sometimes have panic attacks. This acute event involves the sudden onset of intense physical symptoms, including excessive sweating, a rapid heart rate, and difficulty breathing. Panic attacks happen with no obvious external trigger or stressor. They are difficult physical and emotional episodes that can compound the difficulties of dealing with GAD. If you have experienced a panic attack, your Commonwealth counselor can help you address these acute events.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

In OCD, the individual focuses in on small, ritualized tasks as a way to assuage their extreme anxiety. Additional symptoms include obsessive thinking and an overwhelming sense that something disastrous will occur if the individual does not perform their ritual. Unlike the stereotype, the person with OCD is not a neat freak; OCD can manifest in any number of ways.


Agoraphobia is another disorder that involves anxiety. While some think it is about being afraid to go outside, it is not. It is more about being afraid to place yourself in a situation where you believe you will lose control. This can be anything from getting on a bus to standing in a crowded line. A patient with agoraphobia will do anything to avoid their trigger, upending their lives. If a patient is faced with a trigger, they could have a panic attack. As with all anxiety disorders, working with a mental health professional is the best answer for those with agoraphobia.