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.