Catherine Garcia has suffered from anxiety issues for most of her life. “Growing up, I just tried to push the thoughts away,” says the 32-year-old corporate controller for an international software company near Boston. “Then, about five years ago, my job became very stressful and I started having panic attacks.” This spiraled into anxiety about her general health, her job, her finances and her marriage. “It was a vicious cycle,” Garcia says. “One worry would lead to a worry about something else.” If, like Garcia, you’re plagued by anxious thoughts for six months or more, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which affects around 7 million Americans. People with GAD startle easily and have difficulty concentrating. Other symptoms can include insomnia, fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, irritability, sweating, nausea, light-headedness, breathlessness and even hot flashes. While experts believe GAD may have a genetic component, the symptoms can be triggered by trauma or a difficult life event such as a divorce or a death in the family. Perhaps because of interactions between sex hormones and brain chemistry, GAD affects around twice as many women as men. People with GAD can’t seem to get rid of their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than a given situation warrants. That’s because their nervous systems are constantly over-activated, even when there’s no external reason for it. “The anxious feeling you have is actually your body’s fear or stress reaction triggered by an inner story or stream of thoughts about something that frightens you,” says Jeffrey Brantley, M.D., founder and director of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C. “In many cases, this story is about something that hasn’t happened or may not even be likely to happen. But the frightening thoughts are powerful enough to trigger the stress reaction, and you feel anxious.” That was certainly the case for Garcia, especially after having children. “I felt guilty for not being a stay-at-home mom, even though I knew I had to work,” she says. “And any time I got sick, I thought I was going to die and not be around for my children. I couldn’t sleep. I had heart palpitations and trouble breathing.” Then a panic attack landed Garcia in the emergency room. “I thought I was dying,” she says. Diagnosed with GAD, Garcia was prescribed anti-anxiety medication, but she wanted to explore other options that would help her get to the root cause of her worries and develop ways to conquer them. “I don’t have any issues with traditional medications for anxiety, but I wanted to take a more natural and holistic route to deal with mine,” she says. If you’re suffering from GAD, take a look at how prescription medications, along with the other approaches outlined here, can help you, too.