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The Common Cold of Anxiety

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the most common form of anxiety affecting more people around the world than any other type of anxiety. People with GAD report a mix of symptoms–physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts.

  • Physical feelings of restlessness
  • Feeling jumpy and keyed up
  • Tense muscles in the back, neck, or shoulders
  • Trembling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Problems going to sleep and waking up
  • Feelings of dread or impending doom
  • Worries about performance
  • Thoughts about being humiliated
  • Worries about being rejected
  • Thoughts about safety

In order to be diagnosed with GAD these symptoms must persist on most days for at least 6 months. People with GAD worry about their jobs, their kids, safety, and school. These worries are not just everyday concerns–but a mountain of worries over molehill problems. GAD interferes with life. People with GAD often avoid doing things that can bring on symtoms which leads to greatly restricted activites. They may pass up on opportunities, isolate themselves, and procrastinate due to fear of failure.

GAD does not seem to be directly caused by one significant stressor such as a traffic accident, terrorist attack, or other trauma. However it does get worse under stress. Like most mental disorders,interactions of genetics, learning, and biology lead to GAD.

GAD can be difficult to diagnosis because of the variety of symptoms. In addition, some of these symptoms can be a result of medications or physical illness. However, there are great treatments available for anxiety. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps you look at how your thinking may be related to your feelings. You learn to look at evidence and find any disortions in the way you interpret events. A variety of medications have also been found to help people with GAD. Sometimes a combination of medication and psychotherapy is called for, but that’s not always necessary.

Getting help for GAD is crucial. Chronic anxiety increases your chances of having headaches, chronic pain, stomach upset, high blood pressure, and even suppressed immune systems. If you have symptoms like those described above, please check with your primary care doctor to rule out physical causes and then discuss treatment options.

The Common Cold of Anxiety

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D.

Laura L. Smith, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the assessment and treatment of adults and children with obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as personality disorders, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and learning disorders. Dr. Smith is a widely published author of articles and books to the profession and the public, including: Overcoming Anxiety For Dummies (2E), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies, Seasonal Affective Disorder For Dummies, Anxiety and Depression Workbook For Dummies, Depression For Dummies, Hollow Kids: Recapturing the Soul of a Generation Lost to the Self-Esteem Myth, and Why Can’t I Be the Parent I Want to Be? Her website is:

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APA Reference
Smith, L. (2009). The Common Cold of Anxiety. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Mar 2009
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