Symptoms of anxiety can change over time, and not everyone will experience them in the same way. Symptoms can also overlap with other common mental disorders. Anxiety and especially GAD symptoms can intensify the symptoms of some medical illnesses and worsen the outcome of the disease.

Physical Symptoms

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Tension
  • Palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Edginess
  • Diarrhea

Psychological Symptoms

  • Constant worry
  • Unsubstantiated worry
  • Chronic worry


Anxiety is a natural part of the body’s biological warning system. It heightens awareness, and in times of danger, induces a physical response called "fight or flight." Most people experience short periods of anxiety. Anxiety is considered a disorder if the symptoms are persistent, life altering, and excessive. Anxiety can be acute or chronic. Chronic anxiety, also known as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is characterized by persistent and unrealistic worry about everyday things. This worry and anxiety is not connected to stressful events and can be aggravated by certain situations.


There are a number of risk factors that are thought to predispose a person to developing an anxiety disorder. Certain age groups are more likely to develop anxiety such as adolescents and adults between the ages 35-54. Stressful life situations, such as divorce/separation, living alone, being a single parent, and suffering abuse, all have a role to play. An event from childhood can also hold importance. Parenting style and any incidence of loss or separation could influence the development of anxiety in later life. In addition, prevalence of anxiety is more common in those with at least one other type of mental disorder. The incidence of anxiety in women is almost double that of men, suggesting a gender influence.


Treatment of anxiety depends on the severity of the disorder, and on whether the anxiety is acute or long term. Psychological therapy is preferred, however due to time and resources available in the healthcare system, drug therapies are also used. These therapies can be used in combination with alternative treatments such as yoga, relaxation techniques, exercise, and meditation.

Psychological therapy

Psychological therapies help people identify, understand, and modify the behavior and thinking patterns that cause anxiety.

  • Cognitive behavioral treatment
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Stress management
  • Hypnosis
  • Relaxation Techniques

Drug therapy

Before treatment of drug therapy is commenced, the risk of self-harm, overdose, cost, age, and potential side effects are considered. Not everyone will have the same response to drug therapy. The health care provider monitors each person individually to assess their reaction to the dose of the drug and to ascertain whether the drug is delivering optimum effects.

The most common types of drugs to treat GAD are serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors such as escitalopram (Lexapro*), sertraline (Zoloft*), and paroxetine (Paxil*). Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium*) and alprazolam (Xanax*), are also used. Benzodiazepines are generally used for a short duration as they have a high risk of dependency.

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  • Roy-Byrne, P. P., Davidson, K. W., Kessler, R. C., Asmundson, G. J., Goodwin, R. D., Kubzansky, L., Stein, M. B. (2008). Anxiety disorder and comorbid medical illness. General Hospital Psychiatry.
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Page updated: January 6, 2023