Worry and generalized anxiety disorder: a review and theoretical synthesis of evidence on nature, etiology, mechanisms, and treatment

Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2013:9:275-97. doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185544.


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is associated with substantial personal and societal cost yet is the least successfully treated of the anxiety disorders. In this review, research on clinical features, boundary issues, and naturalistic course, as well as risk factors and maintaining mechanisms (cognitive, biological, neural, interpersonal, and developmental), are presented. A synthesis of these data points to a central role of emotional hyperreactivity, sensitivity to contrasting emotions, and dysfunctional attempts to cope with strong emotional shifts via worry. Consistent with the Contrast Avoidance model, evidence shows that worry evokes and sustains negative affect, thereby precluding sharp increases in negative emotion. We also review current treatment paradigms and suggest how the Contrast Avoidance model may help to target key fears and avoidance tendencies that serve to maintain pathology in GAD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders* / etiology
  • Anxiety Disorders* / physiopathology
  • Anxiety Disorders* / therapy
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / methods
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / trends
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*