What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

What is generalized anxiety disorder? Learn all about this anxiety disorder, its causes, symptoms and treatment in this article.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a condition that is produced by sustained hyper-activation of the systems that we have to guarantee our survival.

Learn more about this disorder in this article.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is natural.

Actually, it’s an adaptive mechanism that prepares the body for mental and physical strength to overcome an obstacle.  This is what is known as the “fight or flight reaction,” or the answer to acute stress.

Up against a possible threat, there is a biochemical reaction in the amigdala, which is a component of the central nervous system. As a result, this releases chemical messages,  that prepare the body to take charge of the situation.  The heart rate increases and blood pressure goes up. There is more blood in the muscles and the pupils dilate.  The objective of this is to face the threat or flee from it.

Cortisol is the hormone that prepares the body for fight or flight. This explains the physical symptoms of people with anxiety.

An example of anxiety may be the following:  a person meets up with a wild animal, is scared and doesn’t know how to react.

In this situation, the body prepares a mechanism of defense to:

  • Defend itself
  • Attack
  • Flee


All of this occurs without the person being aware that one mechanism or another is activating. In fact, this happens so rapidly that we don’t have time to notice the step-by-step process.

In this sense, the instinct triggers a series of physical reactions that activate one or more mechanisms of defense.

Man jumping between cliffs

Therefore, putting it simply:  anxiety is the basis of survival.

So…When does anxiety turn into something bad? 

Anxiety turns into something negative when it is excessive.

Why?  Because then the result is not adaptive. Instead of overcoming the obstacle, the anxiety becomes the obstacle.  This means that the anxiety derails us and we are not in control of the situation.

Why does anxiety occur? The cycle of fear

The information we obtain with our senses (with the exception of the sense of smell that goes in another direction) travels through the thalamus gland. This is a component of the central nervous system that filters stimuli. 

This happens so that the brain only receives important information. Because of  this, we perceive the information erroneously and it causes anxiety.  It may also magnify the threat.

When this information is a threat, the brain and other areas of the nervous system send signals to the amigdala.

How does it function?

It’s all about the liberation of noradrenaline.  This is released in the locus coeruleus, a region of the brain where the neurons noradrenergics are very abundant.

The amigdala sends out new signals, that quickly trigger the release of the cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that prepares the body for fight or flight. This explains the physical symptoms of anxiety. 

Woman with anxiety on bench in park

This hyperactivation of the amigdala sets off another problem. This alters the area of the brain in charge of stopping fear. Because of the this, the brain doesn’t stop the sensation of fear and continues to perceive the threat.

In a simple way, there is hyperactivation of the systems that respond to the threats. Nothing can stop these reactions.

What problems arise in the long run?

You might say that the body becomes accustomed to reacting in this way.  The prolonged activation of this and cortisol weakens the threshold for tolerance.

This could explain why children who suffer abuse and people who have lived in war zones experience more anxiety.  After living in constant tension over the years, their body has become accustomed to responding in this way when faced with any threat.

What do anxiety disorders have in common?

Fear and worry characterize this group of conditions known as anxiety disorders.  This provokes hyperactivation of the body, which ends up in a deterioration of the individual in all areas.

While this article focus on generalized anxiety disorder, there are also many other anxiety disorders:


  • Anxiety disorder with agoraphobia
  • Agoraphobia without anxiety
  • Anxiety disorder without agoraphobia
  • Specific phobias
  • Social phobia
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Extreme stress disorder
  • Generalized stress disorder
  • Reactive stress disorder
  • Situational anxiety disorder
  • Specific anxiety disorder

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

The following are some of the symptoms of this disorder:

  • Visible anxiety, worry and feelings of apprehension for more than 6 months linked to daily situations.
  • Palpitations, perspiring, trembling an dry mouth.
  • Sensations of drowning, difficulty swallowing, pressure in the chest and nausea.
  • Dizziness and instability.
  • Feelings of unreality (episodes of unreality) and feelings of being outside of the body.
  • Fear of losing the mind, losing control, and fear of dying.
  • Muscular tension and pain.
  • Difficulty concentrating, the mind going blank, and irritability.
  • People with anxiety don’t sleep well due to worrying.

How common is this? Who does it affect?

Anxiety occurs frequently, and generalized anxiety disorder fairly common among adults

Anxiety and depression

Anxious woman

Among the various anxiety disorders, as with depression, the majority of cases are associated with each other.  In addition, the link of these mental conditions with the chronic physical effects is more than evident.

The connection between mental and physical health in the elderly is of special importance.  In this group, all of these problems add to the illnesses, the loneliness, and the lack of social and economic resources.

Another important point are the treatments. In the majority of cases, the treatment for generalized anxiety disorder is a combination of antidepressants and tranquilizers as well as cognitive behavioral therapy.




You May Like