GAD is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about a variety of everyday problems for at least six months. The worry is overwhelming and may cause problems concentrating and sleeping. In addition, worriers may experience physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, trembling, irritability, sweating, restlessness, nausea, lightheadedness, feeling out of breath, and hot flashes. People with GAD worry about hypothetical disasters and are overly concerned with areas such as health, finance, family problems, or difficulties at work. They have difficulty controlling their worries, even when they realize that their anxiety is excessive.
GAD affects about twice as many women as men and about seven million Americans. The condition develops gradually and can begin at any age, though symptoms typically first present early in life. With no proper treatment, GAD might become chronic and worsen over the years. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends cognitive behavior therapy as the first line of treatment.
In cognitive behavior treatment, patients learn a variety of proven strategies and interventions. Patients learn to identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones. Other interventions include time management, relaxation, meditation, and breathing exercises, distraction from worry, and acquiring a healthier lifestyle.