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Generalized Anxiety Disorder Basic Facts

anxiety disorder

It is not unusual or abnormal to have worries in life about problems regarding family, employment, school and health to a reasonable degree but when worry crosses over the line and becomes obsessive and chronic, it becomes an anxiety disorder. GAD is the term for this type of anxiety but treatments are available for those who are diagnosed with it.

Symptoms and Manifestations of GAD

People, who experience GAD, will have chronic excessive worry for at least six months, to meet the diagnostic criteria as described by the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health. The worry will often keep them from getting proper rest and sleep, due to the continued troubling or racing thoughts that they find very difficult not to entertain and to ponder repeatedly in their minds. People with GAD often feel they are experiencing a nervous breakdown.

GAD patients often worry about things such as contracting a terminal illness or that it might happen to one of their loved ones or that a tragic event will strike their family. They may also worry about losing their job or that their spouse will leave them when there is no rational reason for these concerns to occur.

They may also obsess over the possibility of being a failure at their job or other pursuits in life that are important to them. They often feel on-edge and very apprehensive in these areas and this will often cause avoidance behaviors, meaning they resist attempting to succeed at new endeavors of self-improvement for fear of failure or disappointment.

Patients with GAD often feel highly stressed (stressed-out) due to the many things they continually worry about. This can contribute to feelings of low mood and depression, which commonly co-exist with GAD. Panic attacks may also occur in some patients with this anxiety disorder, as can elements of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Some GAD Patients are Over-Achievers

Another aspect of this anxiety disorder can be obsessive thoughts in the area of self-achievements. People with GAD may constantly feel they have not achieved enough success in life and as a result they will push their selves toward unreasonable goals, rather than allowing achievements to occur at a reasonable pace for them. This can create a vicious cycle of added stressors, followed by disappointments over not achieving the unreasonable goals they set for themselves.

People with Gad may also multi-task to an unreasonable degree due to their worry that duties and obligations will mount and become overwhelming to them. They become obsessed with staying ahead of their tasks, to the point that they cause added stress and become sensitized to anxiety rather than achieving the stress-relief they are seeking. Some people who appear to be “work-a-holics”, may actually be suffering from GAD.

Treatments for GAD

Medications, including anti-anxiety drugs and anti-depressants are often prescribed to help reduce the symptoms of GAD. These may include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI-a type of anti-depressant) which, comes in brands such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft. Some patients may also be prescribed benzopines (anxiety drugs) that help to offer immediate relief of anxiety symptoms as-needed which comes in brands such as Xanax, Kolonopin, and Adavan.

Psychiatric therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can also help a great deal in gaining patients coping skills or the ability to overcome their anxiety disorders completely over time. Some prescribed treatments may include a combination of therapy and anxiety-reducing medications.

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Chronic Anxiety Unreality Symptoms

chronic anxiety

These sensations, referred to as "depersonalization" and "derealization," are not actual delusions or hallucinations but are rather unpleasant feelings that give the one experiencing them a feeling that reality has been altered. While this symptom-phenomenon can be very unpleasant, it does not indicate psychosis or the onset of developing insanity. These type anxiety symptoms are experienced commonly and in the vast majority of cases, are neither harmful nor dangerous.

The Anxiety Mechanism

Anxiety researchers believe that unreality symptoms occur due to the anxiety mechanism called the “fight-or-flight response.” Part of its purpose is to increase a person’s concentration as it is directed toward a danger or an important task at hand that requires focus and readiness for responding to.

In the process of this, the fight-or-flight response can also cause a person’s self and surroundings to fall into the background so that this increased concentration on an immediate need can occur as-necessary. With anxiety “disorder,” this response begins to occur at inappropriate times or with more frequency than normal, resulting in an unpleasant perception of these symptoms.

A Vicious Cycle

When sensations of unreality occur with anxiety disorders, the focus can be on the anxiety itself that begins to be perceived as a threat or danger in the body. Fearing unpleasant anxiety responses and panic attacks can begin to serve as a “trigger” for unreality symptoms or what is also referred to as a “phobia.” This can become a vicious cycle when anxiety triggers more anxiety but with treatment, chronic anxiety can be significantly diminished and in some cases overcome completely.

Unreality Symptoms

Anxiety suffers vary in symptom manifestations but there are common sensations, feelings and perceptions often described by them as related to depersonalization and derealization. These symptoms can include the following:

  • feeling unreal, like a cardboard figure or a robot
  • the sensation that one is watching their own actions from outside of their body
  • feeling as if others are real but they are not
  • lacking recognition of oneself when looking into a mirror reflection
  • feeling as if one’s surroundings have become unreal
  • the sensation that things are being looked at through a veil or a fog
  • feeling as if the surrounding world is a dream or hallucination
  • having momentary doubts about strongly-held beliefs
As mentioned previously, these types of unreality sensations do not represent true mental illness when they are triggered by chronic anxiety (neurosis). They are better categorized as “emotional disorder related symptoms” and a fact stated by many reputable psychiatric professionals and mental health research groups.

When true psychosis develops, a person is typically not aware of it and often, it does not present a concern to them. With anxiety disorder sufferers, it is just the opposite and they are finely tuned-in to all of their emotional and physical sensations.


To treat unreality symptoms, the underlying anxiety disorder must be treated. All of the different types of anxiety disorders have potential to cause depersonalization and/or derealization. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven to be highly successful in the treatment of anxiety disorders and symptoms. Exposure therapies, meaning those that help anxiety sufferers to slowly overcome phobias that trigger anxiety responses by gradually increasing their exposure to them has also proven to be a successful treatment.

Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants can also benefit patients with anxiety disorders and some patients are treated with a combination of psychiatric therapy and medication. It is important that a person suffering anxiety and/or unreality type symptoms see their doctor for thorough evaluation and referral to proper treatment(s).

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