Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition associated with “free-floating” feelings of anxiety and irrational worry in a broad range of scenarios — such as finances, interpersonal relationships, the workplace, health issues, and death — rather than in just a single, isolated event.

While many are familiar with feeling anxious during stressful situations such as a job interview, taking an exam, or public speaking, persistent or excessive symptoms of anxiety that impair functioning can indicate a generalized anxiety disorder.

Prevalence

One of the most common mental disorders, GAD has a lifetime prevalence of 3 – 5%, with onset possible in childhood or adulthood. The female to male ratio of this condition is 2:1.

The actual causes of generalized anxiety are largely unknown but a genetic pre-disposition can be a factor, along with those with a more timid or overly cautious disposition.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

GAD has similar symptoms to other anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and panic disorder, but GAD is characterized by physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Palpitations (an awareness of your heart beating faster than usual)
  • Palpitations (an awareness of your heart beating faster than usual)
  • Muscle aches or tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • “Churning of the stomach”
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • A choking sensation
  • Trembling
  • Irritability
  • Easily startled
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diarrhea and/or nausea
  • Problems sleeping

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Ongoing disproportionate worry or obsession about things
  • Irritability
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • A foreboding that something terrible is about to happen
  • Inability to stop worrying
  • Problems relaxing
  • Lack of ability to focus
  • Fear of making bad decisions causing anxiety
  • Lack of certainty causing distress
  • Focusing on negative outcomes when considering options
  • Obsessive quest for validation through social media

With generalized anxiety, there can be periods of relief and there can be periods when there is no obvious source for the anxiety. Anxiety commonly manifests in a general impending sense of doom for oneself or one’s family’s safety. It is not uncommon for anxiety to cause problems at home, in work, at school, or in relationships.


With teenagers or young children, their symptoms may also include:

  • Anxiety related to fitting in
  • Lack of confidence
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Spending longer than most doing homework
  • Spending longer than most doing homework
  • Persistent quest for approval
  • Need for an abnormal degree of reassurance related to performance

Some may also have extreme worries regarding sport or school performance, being on time, or re major events like earthquakes or nuclear war.

Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

To get an official diagnosis of GAD, symptoms must be present most days of the week for at least six months.

A doctor will complete a number of tests and investigations to rule out any other reasons for symptoms because many of the symptoms for GAD are also the symptoms for medical conditions such as an overactive thyroid.

The person’s answer to questionnaires, such as the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale-7, will help the doctor nail down the exact cause and severity of GAD.

Diagnosis may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork and/or urine tests
  • Patient interview and/or psychological questionnaires to establish medical history and specifics on symptoms

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 diagnostic manual, the criteria includes any one of the following symptoms for children, or any three for adults:

  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Issues sleeping
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Worry or anxiety that is disruptive to everyday life
  • Trouble controlling worry
  • Anxiety unrelated to other diagnosed mental health conditions
  • Almost daily anxiety or worry about numerous situations in excessive levels for six months or more

GAD is not necessarily a standalone disorder; it can often coexist with other mental disorders such as depression and/or alcohol dependence syndrome, phobias, panic disorder, or PTSD.

Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

The mainstay of treatment for GAD is talking therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or medication.

Psychotherapy – can be an effective therapist-based treatment to reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety. It is also referred to as talk therapy or psychological counseling.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy – is a short-term treatment where the individual is taught skills on how to ease back into activities currently avoided because of anxiety. Symptoms ease when these skills become habitual and the individual continues to reclaim their life.

Medications – often prescribed for general anxiety include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)
  • Benzodiazepines

Lifestyle changes – In addition to help you can get from a professional, certain lifestyle changes may also contribute to significant improvements in GAD symptoms, including:

  • Modifying one’s lifestyle, such as cutting down or eliminating alcohol, smoking, and caffeine consumption
  • Learning coping strategies
  • Developing relaxation techniques
  • Getting or staying active
  • Getting the necessary amount of sleep
  • Adopting a healthy diet with less processed food and more fruit and vegetables

Herbal remedies – Some individuals elect to pursue treatment that includes herbal remedies, and like medications, professional advice should be sought especially if currently taking medication for anything else. The more common options taken to address anxiety include kava, valerian, passionflower, and theanine. While many remedies have shown promise, a number have also been connected to liver damage, and as with medication treatment, talk to a doctor for a full understanding of the benefits or risks with any form of treatment.

Coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Coping strategies

  • Stick with the medication and/or therapy plan created by the doctor. This is especially important with medications since many take time to build up to the right levels.
  • Local support groups help in the journey, providing understanding and compassion that may not be available at home.
  • Local support groups help in the journey, providing understanding and compassion that may not be available at home.
  • Do not procrastinate seeing a doctor to formulate the best treatment plan. Acknowledging and taking steps to address anxiety earlier will always make treatment easier and more fruitful rather than ignoring or postponing it.
  • Don’t focus on failures or worries from the past, and look to address that which is within one’s control today.
  • Find new constructive ways to respond to anxiety or worry like going for a walk or journal writing. Create a habit of using these default responses.
  • Isolation does contribute positively to anxiety. Spend time around other caring people.
  • Document your experiences – Keep a personal log of your experiences and the things that may cause stress or reduce anxiety in order to adopt new responses to them.
  • Adopt a schedule – Plan out your time to make healthy lifestyle choices a priority.

Help for Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

A life without some anxiety is not realistic, but at the same time, it should not be controlling one’s life. If the signs and symptoms mentioned in this article fit, then see a doctor. Left ignored or untreated, the symptoms will not simply diminish or leave on their own, and instead are more likely to worsen.

Get treatment as early as possible because of GAD’s potential to contribute to any of the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Depression
  • Issues with digestion
  • Heart issues

You should see a doctor immediately if you have thoughts of suicide.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

GAD has similar symptoms to other anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and panic disorder, but GAD is characterized by physical and psychological symptoms.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Palpitations (an awareness of your heart beating faster than usual)
  • Palpitations (an awareness of your heart beating faster than usual)
  • Muscle aches or tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • “Churning of the stomach”
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • A choking sensation
  • Trembling
  • Irritability
  • Easily startled
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Diarrhea and/or nausea
  • Problems sleeping

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Ongoing disproportionate worry or obsession about things
  • Irritability
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • A foreboding that something terrible is about to happen
  • Inability to stop worrying
  • Problems relaxing
  • Lack of ability to focus
  • Fear of making bad decisions causing anxiety
  • Lack of certainty causing distress
  • Focusing on negative outcomes when considering options
  • Obsessive quest for validation through social media

With generalized anxiety, there can be periods of relief and there can be periods when there is no obvious source for the anxiety. Anxiety commonly manifests in a general impending sense of doom for oneself or one’s family’s safety. It is not uncommon for anxiety to cause problems at home, in work, at school, or in relationships.


With teenagers or young children, their symptoms may also include:

  • Anxiety related to fitting in
  • Lack of confidence
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Spending longer than most doing homework
  • Spending longer than most doing homework
  • Persistent quest for approval
  • Need for an abnormal degree of reassurance related to performance

Some may also have extreme worries regarding sport or school performance, being on time, or re major events like earthquakes or nuclear war.

Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

To get an official diagnosis of GAD, symptoms must be present most days of the week for at least six months.

A doctor will complete a number of tests and investigations to rule out any other reasons for symptoms because many of the symptoms for GAD are also the symptoms for medical conditions such as an overactive thyroid.

The person’s answer to questionnaires, such as the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale-7, will help the doctor nail down the exact cause and severity of GAD.

Diagnosis may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Bloodwork and/or urine tests
  • Patient interview and/or psychological questionnaires to establish medical history and specifics on symptoms

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 diagnostic manual, the criteria includes any one of the following symptoms for children, or any three for adults:

  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Issues sleeping
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Worry or anxiety that is disruptive to everyday life
  • Trouble controlling worry
  • Anxiety unrelated to other diagnosed mental health conditions
  • Almost daily anxiety or worry about numerous situations in excessive levels for six months or more

GAD is not necessarily a standalone disorder; it can often coexist with other mental disorders such as depression and/or alcohol dependence syndrome, phobias, panic disorder, or PTSD.

Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

The mainstay of treatment for GAD is talking therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and/or medication.

Psychotherapy – can be an effective therapist-based treatment to reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety. It is also referred to as talk therapy or psychological counseling.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy – is a short-term treatment where the individual is taught skills on how to ease back into activities currently avoided because of anxiety. Symptoms ease when these skills become habitual and the individual continues to reclaim their life.

Medications – often prescribed for general anxiety include:

  • Antidepressants
  • Serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI)
  • Benzodiazepines

Lifestyle changes – In addition to help you can get from a professional, certain lifestyle changes may also contribute to significant improvements in GAD symptoms, including:

  • Modifying one’s lifestyle, such as cutting down or eliminating alcohol, smoking, and caffeine consumption
  • Learning coping strategies
  • Developing relaxation techniques
  • Getting or staying active
  • Getting the necessary amount of sleep
  • Adopting a healthy diet with less processed food and more fruit and vegetables

Herbal remedies – Some individuals elect to pursue treatment that includes herbal remedies, and like medications, professional advice should be sought especially if currently taking medication for anything else. The more common options taken to address anxiety include kava, valerian, passionflower, and theanine. While many remedies have shown promise, a number have also been connected to liver damage, and as with medication treatment, talk to a doctor for a full understanding of the benefits or risks with any form of treatment.

Coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

Coping strategies

  • Stick with the medication and/or therapy plan created by the doctor. This is especially important with medications since many take time to build up to the right levels.
  • Local support groups help in the journey, providing understanding and compassion that may not be available at home.
  • Local support groups help in the journey, providing understanding and compassion that may not be available at home.
  • Do not procrastinate seeing a doctor to formulate the best treatment plan. Acknowledging and taking steps to address anxiety earlier will always make treatment easier and more fruitful rather than ignoring or postponing it.
  • Don’t focus on failures or worries from the past, and look to address that which is within one’s control today.
  • Find new constructive ways to respond to anxiety or worry like going for a walk or journal writing. Create a habit of using these default responses.
  • Isolation does contribute positively to anxiety. Spend time around other caring people.
  • Document your experiences – Keep a personal log of your experiences and the things that may cause stress or reduce anxiety in order to adopt new responses to them.
  • Adopt a schedule – Plan out your time to make healthy lifestyle choices a priority.

Help for Generalized Anxiety Disorder:

A life without some anxiety is not realistic, but at the same time, it should not be controlling one’s life. If the signs and symptoms mentioned in this article fit, then see a doctor. Left ignored or untreated, the symptoms will not simply diminish or leave on their own, and instead are more likely to worsen.

Get treatment as early as possible because of GAD’s potential to contribute to any of the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Depression
  • Issues with digestion
  • Heart issues

You should see a doctor immediately if you have thoughts of suicide.

Sources PSYCHOLOGY TODAY – Social Media | ADAA – Understanding GAD | MAYO CLINIC – Symptoms | NIH – GAD signs | WEBMD – What is Generalized Anxiety | PSYCHOLOGY TODAY – GAD Treatment | HARVARD – Generalized Anxiety Psychotherapy