General Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC

Published on

May 15, 2024

Updated on

May 15, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Anxiety is a normal reaction to a perceived threat and something that most people experience throughout their lives. A person may feel anxious when speaking in public, going on a first date, or making an important life decision. If, however, anxiety is more than a temporary feeling, does not go away, affects daily functioning, or worsens over time, this may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting over 18 percent of the U.S. population[1]. Many people describe persistent anxiety as a feeling of non-stop worrying over a particular situation or just a sense of dread that something terrible might happen. Neurologically speaking, anxiety is the result of brain circuitry that’s stuck in a fight-or-flight pattern. The unrelenting thoughts and feelings occur due to dysfunction in the brain’s limbic system[2]. The good news is that this faulty circuitry can be rewired thanks to neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural pathways. No matter how much your anxiety might consume your day-to-day life, know that you’re not alone and there is a way out. In this article, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about general anxiety, including how re-origin, a neuroplasticity-based treatment program, can help you eliminate the dysfunctional brain patterns and re-establish a feeling of calm. General anxiety is also commonly referred to as:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • General Anxiety Disorder
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder (PD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Phobias

Symptoms of General Anxiety

There are many symptoms that characterize general anxiety and they often vary from person to person. Whether or not something produces an anxious response in a person depends on the individual, their history, and their unique worries or fears. Here are the most common symptoms of general anxiety:

  • Consistently worrying about particular situations, people, or things
  • Overthinking
  • Thinking of all possible worst-case scenarios
  • Perceiving situations as threatening when they’re not
  • Difficulty with uncertainty
  • Fear of making a poor decision
  • Inability to let go of a concern
  • Inability to relax or constantly feeling “on edge”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle aches
  • Trembling or twitching
  • Nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Digestive changes (constipation or diarrhea)
  • Irritability

Many people are surprised to learn that anxiety, a mental disorder, can conjure up such powerful physical symptoms, such as trembling, muscle aches, twitching, and digestive issues. These physical symptoms often lead people to think that there is something “seriously” wrong with them, and their anxious thoughts only fuel that worry. Additionally, general anxiety often co-occurs with other limbic system disorders, including depression, fibromyalgia, post-viral fatigue, and multiple chemical sensitivities.

How Anxious Am I? Take This Self-Assessment

While a true diagnosis must come from a medical professional, you can take the anxiety self-assessment by re-origin to establish a baseline for your overall level of anxiety and how it may have impacted you. By returning to and filling out the same assessment over time, you will be able to see how your level of anxiety changes based on the various methods of treatment you employ.

Causes and Risk Factors of General Anxiety

At its core, general anxiety is the result of a limbic system impairment[3]—an overactive threat detection and response mechanism in a subconscious region of the brain. A limbic system impairment can arise when someone experiences chronic stress, a traumatic event, or a series of traumatic events. The stressors essentially overwhelm the brain, changing the circuitry in the limbic system. When the limbic system becomes impaired in this way, its protective mechanisms fire more rapidly and inappropriately. It continuously sends out alarm signals making the sufferer feel like something is always wrong, even when there is truly no danger. These faulty neural pathways ultimately become conditioned, meaning they get stuck in a vicious loop where anxiety won't go away. Anxiety can affect people of all ages, however, women are twice as likely to be affected as men[1]. The reason for this is unknown, however, it may be due to situations and stressors that are unique to women. Some other risk factors that may make one more likely to develop general anxiety include:

  • Having a high chronic stress load
  • Experiencing traumatic or stressful life events (contracting a virus, getting in an accident, experiencing an emotional event, childbirth, etc.)
  • Experiencing traumas or stressful events in close succession
  • Experiencing trauma in childhood
  • A history of anxiety in your family

How General Anxiety is Diagnosed

To diagnose an anxiety disorder, a doctor will perform a physical exam, ask about your symptoms, and recommend blood tests, which helps them determine if another condition, such as hypothyroidism, may be causing your symptoms.

If the doctor does not find an underlying cause of the symptoms, they’ll perform a psychological evaluation to determine whether your thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns fit the criteria for general anxiety. Often, patients will complete a GAD9, which is a standardized form to assess if a patient has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

How General Anxiety is Treated

A significant amount of research has been conducted to find ways to help individuals who suffer from general anxiety. Before delving into how re-origin can help from a neuroplasticity perspective, let’s review the most common, traditional treatment methods for anxiety disorders:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This is a type of talk therapy that is commonly used to help those with anxiety. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, many individuals are able to better understand their anxiety and develop skills for addressing it. The process of overcoming anxiety through CBT often takes many months, and sometimes even years, of weekly visits to a therapist. While CBT is helpful for many anxiety sufferers, it can be quite expensive, which is a drawback for many patients seeking treatment for anxiety.

Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a branch of CBT that involves gradually exposing the individual to whatever is causing them anxiety. As the sufferer improves, the exposures increase in terms of how challenging they are. Exposure therapy works by teaching a person’s brain that their triggers are safe and not to be feared, thereby switching off the part of the brain that’s over-firing. Over time, this reduces the feelings of anxiety a person has when they encounter or think about their triggers.

re-origin and exposure therapy actually have some similarities. Both methods work to rewire the brain using incremental training, gradually deconditioning the brain to its triggers. Unlike re-origin which is self-directed, however, exposure therapy is done with the help of a mental health provider. While exposure therapy is considered effective in overcoming specific fears, appointments can be pricey, making it inaccessible to many people due to cost.

Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is a type of therapy that uses guided relaxation and focused attention to achieve a heightened state of awareness called a trance. For some people, it can be a helpful tool for uncovering the root of their anxiety and learning new ways to address it when it arises. However, peer-reviewed clinical evidence for hypnotherapy’s success in treating anxiety disorder is lacking[4]. Additionally, people typically require many sessions, which is expensive and prohibitive to most.

Medications

Certain medications are often used to reduce or eliminate anxiety symptoms. One common group of medications prescribed for anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These are antidepressants, but they also have been shown to help with anxiety. They work by stimulating the production of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, namely serotonin, which helps regulate anxiety.

While antidepressants can be life-saving in certain situations, the major downside is that antidepressants don’t permanently repair the root neurological cause of the dysfunction. A person may feel better when they’re on antidepressants, however, anxiety may come rushing back when the person weans off of them. This class of medications also comes with a long list of potential side effects and many people have difficulty discontinuing use.

Another class of medications that’s used to treat anxiety includes benzodiazepines. While these drugs can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, they are highly addictive. People who regularly use them run the risk of developing an addiction and experiencing severe withdrawal if they try to discontinue them.

How We Approach General Anxiety

General anxiety occurs when the limbic system becomes traumatized due to persistent stress, a traumatic event, or a series of traumatic events. When in this impaired state, the limbic system repeatedly sends out inappropriate alarm signals to warn of danger, leading to feelings of anxiety. Essentially, generalized anxiety disorder is an exaggerated or inappropriate stress response to a benign situation[5]. The good news is that these symptoms are temporary and can be reversed. At re-origin, we focus on addressing the root cause of anxiety: an impaired limbic system. By interrupting the faulty neural pathways in the brain and calming the overactive threat-response system, you can permanently and fully recover from persistent anxiety. Through re-origin, you will learn how to adopt the perspective of the “curious observer,” separating yourself from your anxious thoughts and feelings and learning to see them as nothing more than a temporary loop in your brain. Then, using specific neurocognitive exercises and incremental training, you can work to create new, anxiety-free neural pathways and get back to a place of safety and balance where normal thought processes and reactions can resume.

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How to Live and Cope with General Anxiety

At re-origin, we believe that nobody should have to live or cope with persistent feelings of anxiety. We want you to eliminate the root causes of your anxiety and re-establish peace and happiness. Our program involves applying an easy-to-follow, five-step neurocognitive technique to override and rewire faulty conditioning in the brain and create new, functional neural pathways.

re-origin’s approach does not chase or mask symptoms, but rather works to rewire the part of the brain that’s causing the dysfunction (the limbic system), resulting in long-lasting recovery. The program is easy to follow, self-directed, cost-effective, and takes just minutes a day to implement.

A Final Word from re-origin

General anxiety can be extremely debilitating, frightening, and confusing and severely impact your ability to function in your day-to-day life. If you’re suffering from this disorder, it’s important to understand the following:

  • You did not cause this.
  • Your inability to manage it is not a reflection of your strength.
  • You’re not going insane. Your persistent, scary thoughts and feelings are simply the result of faulty transmissions in a malfunctioning brain.
  • This condition is not permanent—you can undo the faulty wiring in your brain and make a full recovery with the help of re-origin.

No one should have to live with persistent feelings of anxiety—and thankfully, you don’t have to! With our proprietary neuroplasticity training, you can rewire the region of your brain responsible for your anxiety, putting an end to the symptoms you’re experiencing once and for all. Learn more about our neuroplasticity training program.

FAQs

What is an example of general anxiety disorder?
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General anxiety can come in many forms and looks different for every person. In one person, general anxiety disorder may manifest as an intense, persistent worry about the safety of their loved ones. In another person, it may appear as a general fear of something bad happening or a persistent feeling of impending doom.

How can you calm general anxiety?
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In order to calm your anxiety, you need to address its root cause: a limbic system impairment. The key to overcoming anxiety lies in applying re-origin’s techniques and being consistent in your efforts. With dedication and repetition, you can create new, anxiety-free neural pathways in your brain.

What are the five symptoms of anxiety?
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Anxiety has many symptoms, but five common symptoms that people experience include consistent worrying, overthinking, perceiving non-threatening situations as dangerous, struggling with uncertainty, and fear of making the wrong decision.

What does anxiety feel like?
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Anxiety can feel very different from person to person, however, most people say that they feel as if they cannot control their thoughts, are constantly on edge, and worry about situations that are out of their control. In short, people can often feel that they are out of control within their lives and constantly fearful of what might happen.

By

Katie Rapkoch, CHPC