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Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Diagnosis and Treatment

Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder – Diagnosis and Treatment

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Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is one of the most common anxiety disorders, occurring in 3.1% of the U.S. population in any given year. It can occur at any age; however, the onset is most often during childhood to middle age. A person with GAD worries uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations.

GAD can interfere with daily activities. Everyone feels anxious; however, people with GAD worry persistently and excessively to the point where it becomes difficult to perform daily tasks.  For example, a person who worries about finances while being financially sound may have GAD.  People with GAD feel anxious and worried, more often than not, about a number of different events, situations, and activities such as work, finances, health, school performance, and relationships.  At times, a person with GAD may feel worried, however, is unable to identify the source of worry which can make the anxiety all the more distressing.  Individuals with GAD may find it difficult to control or stop their worries.


People with recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations have an increased risk of GAD. In individuals with a predisposition to anxiety or current struggles with anxiety, GAD can be fueled by excessive use of caffeine or tobacco. Other common risk factors include childhood abuse and a family history of anxiety.


Symptoms of GAD vary from person to person but may include:

➢ Perceiving everyday events and situations as threatening

➢ Overthinking worst-case scenario outcomes, plans, and solutions

➢ Sweating, fatigue, irritability, muscle tension, feeling keyed up, and nausea

➢ Inability to stop worrying

➢ Difficulty concentrating

➢ Trouble falling and/or staying asleep


When a doctor or mental health professional suspects that a patient has GAD, they may order blood, urine, or other tests to rule out a medical cause. They may conduct physical tests to look for signs of anxiety and ask the patient certain questions about their symptoms and family history.

Once medical causes and diagnoses are ruled out, doctors and mental health professionals use a psychological questionnaire and other assessment tools to measure and observe an individual’s symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis.



Many people with GAD use psychotherapy to manage their condition. Some forms of psychotherapy that have been proven to alleviate anxiety symptoms include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Exposure Response Prevention Therapy.

In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the client is taught ways to restructure thinking patterns that foster anxiety, problem solve, and engage in effective action steps to improve mood and manage anxiety in the long term. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been thoroughly researched and proven to be effective in treating anxiety.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is one of the most researched and effective treatments for anxiety-related disorders. ERP is based on the premise that by facing the fear (exposure) you will learn that you can handle the discomfort without engaging in the unhelpful coping strategies (response prevention) such as reassurance seeking, over-informing oneself, rumination, and avoidance. Through ERP, you learn strategies for reducing these compulsions which can often take many hours out of your day.  Some people ask, how do you face the fear if you cannot create it in real life? We do this imaginably, or through the use of scripts.

Anxiety Medication 

Doctors often prescribe antidepressants, particularly SSRIs, to treat and manage anxiety disorders. Many doctors prescribe medication in conjunction with therapy to alleviate the symptoms of GAD.  If you are someone who does not like to take medication, research suggests that cognitive-behavioral therapy and ERP alone can help you manage anxiety effectively if your anxiety is more mild or moderate.  If you suffer from severe anxiety, medication in conjunction with CBT and ERP is the most effective treatment.

The OCD & Anxiety Center is a team of passionate and dedicated professionals. We specialize in treating anxiety disorders near you. Our therapists will work with you to help you become the best version of yourself. To make an appointment, call us today at (630) 522-3124. 

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2805 Butterfield Road suite 120
Oak Brook, IL 60523

(630) 522-3124

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