Generalized Anxiety Disorder: The Mind/Body Connection

BioPsychoSocial Health CategoryGAD or generalized anxiety disorder is defined as a disorder characterized by irrational, uncontrollable worry about everyday issues and events. While someone without GAD may find themselves anxious in certain scenarios, persons with GAD may be almost paralyzed with anxiety in situations that should not generate that level of fear and worry. This anxiety may manifest itself physically through hot flashes, an accelerated heart beat, sweating, muscle aches, irritability and health issues.

While it has long been known that GAD can affect someone physically, new research is pointing to potential causes for GAD. Reported in Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers are studying the effects of some conditions such as thyroid disease, arthritis, migraine and respiratory disease and their connection to the onset of GAD. They approached this study knowing that physical illness often leads to depression. They wanted to find out if physical illness may cause GAD or other anxiety disorders.

PhobiaThey studied more than 4,000 adults for two years for signs of the GAD mind/body connection. They included all anxiety disorders such as agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. Their results thus far show an increased rate of anxiety disorders in patients suffering from physical conditions. They are trying to figure out how and why the connection exists. One thought is that when a person is suffering a physical illness they are faced with increased worry and anxiety, triggering the development GAD.

I would go one step further to say that it seems like the brain gets “stuck” in the worry and anxiety mode, and maybe it can’t get out of it due to the existing stress on the body caused by the illness. It would be interesting to see if GAD patients without illness triggers can recover from their GAD more easily.

It is the hope of researchers that these studies will have the same effect on the medical community as the depression/physical illness studies. As more was learned about depression and physical illness, more doctors watched for the signs in their patients and made treatments available. There may come a day when physical illness automatically leads to a mental health evaluation to help patients circumvent depression and anxiety.

Some doctors may begin to screen for GAD and prescribe antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication for conditions shown most likely to induce depression or anxiety disorders. In some cases this may be handled in a proactive manner if a patient is already an anxious or depressive person.


Sareen, J., Jacobi, F., Cox, B.J., Belik, S., Clara, I., Stein, M.B. (2006). Disability and Poor Quality of Life Associated With Comorbid Anxiety Disorders and Physical Conditions. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166(19), 2109-2116. DOI: 10.1001/archinte.166.19.2109

  • Anonymous

    I have GAD. At this point in time, it is horrible. My chest hurts, my body aches, I tremble non-stop, I feel nauseated and unable to eat 100% of the time, when I do force myself to eat it is normally minimum amounts and seldom stays down. If it does stay down it is from considerable work on my part. I have been suffering from this for about 4 years. Some medications have helped for periods of time. Then the anxiety returns. I was hospitalized 3 days ago because I was sure I was having a heart attack. This major episode has now lasted for two weeks. Before I started having problems with this I suffered from horrible migraines. The maigraines are fewer now but the depression and anxiety are terrible.

  • Steve

    I am very interesting in how this turns out. My GAD onset was nine years old. And no one found anything wrong with me. I believe it comes from the hard wiring of the nerves in the brain. I currently take Klonopin, which allows me to live like a normal person. Those four day attacks, that came every two weeks, and were physical misery. I don’t miss those.

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  • Dan Abshear

    Dr. Vieira,

    Great article, and I’ve dealt with the disorder for decades.
    It enters the subconscious and once there, it’s there for good, and affects many physiological functions.

    Thanks for bringing this to the attention of others,

    Dan Abshear, fellow author.

  • This is a fascinating article on the possibility of physical illness being a trigger for GAD. Anxiety brought my own world crashing in all around me. It was horrific.

    I’ll be watching this study with great interest.

    Thanks –


  • It does sound logical – Anxiety probably can be brought on by health issues! Now the next question is finding out exactly what else causes anxiety and depression.

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  • rusell

    Great article. I am believe in the mind/body link and the value of understanding and utilising it in medicine. If there mind can effect the body, what can’t the body effect the mind. When you are feeling really ill or in pain, it effects your emotions doesn’t it? Try being happy when you are in real pain.

  • I would have to say that GAD is very common amongst everyday people…

    Because with so much madness going on in the world it’s tough not
    to be worried….

    From the recession in the economy, to the world being at war…

    And it’s just getting worse each day and so is anxiety disorders…

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Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD

Karen Vieira, MBA, PhD, has written about medical research, medical procedures, food ingredients, herbal remedies, pharmaceutical drugs, condo construction, real estate and computer consulting to mention a few.

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