What It Is, the Symptoms for Generalized Anxiety Disorder and How It’s Treated
Generalized anxiety disorder or GAD is one of the most common forms of anxiety. Other types of anxiety include 7 of the Best Herbs for Social Anxietysocial anxiety disorder, specific phobias, panic disorder, and panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Learn more about the symptoms for generalized anxiety disorder and other relevant information in this article.
What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by long term, pervasive, ongoing worry about different things in one’s life. Someone with generalized anxiety disorder may always feel like disaster is coming or just around the corner. Some of the issues a person with GAD may worry about include family, work, health, and medical conditions, and money.
This mental health disorder leads someone to worry in a way that’s excessive or out-of-proportion to what’s actually happening or the reality of a situation.
When someone has GAD, they realize their feelings of anxiety are irrational or not in proportion to the situation, but they aren’t able to control it. Having generalized anxiety disorder can cause significant distress for people who struggle with it.
As with most anxiety disorders, doctors and researchers aren’t sure of the exact causes for someone to develop generalized anxiety disorder. It’s likely due to a combination of biological and genetic factors, environmental risk factors and exposure to stressful or traumatic life experiences.
Doctors believe brain chemistry plays a pivotal role in generalized anxiety disorder as well. GAD is associated with abnormal functionality in parts of the brain regulating thinking and emotion. Some neurotransmitters transmit information from one part of the brain to the other. The pathways in people with GAD seem to work differently than in people without the disorder.
When someone has generalized anxiety disorder, they are more likely to have other co-occurring mental health disorders than someone without GAD. Some of the mental health disorders that may occur along with generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Other types of anxiety disorders
- Substance abuse
Someone with generalized anxiety disorder will often find it affects their daily life significantly and may impair their functionality.
What Are the Symptoms for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
The symptoms for generalized anxiety disorder can include:
- Ongoing, excessive worry and fear
- Unrealistic view of situations or problems
- The feeling of consistently being on-edge or restless
- Concentration problems
- Muscle tension
- Going to the bathroom frequently
- Feeling tired
- Trouble sleeping
- Being startled easily
- Overthinking and trying to create solutions for the worst-possible outcomes
- Perceiving situations to be threatening even if they’re not
- Problems with uncertainty
- Fear of making decisions or indecisiveness
- The inability to put worry aside
- The feeling of being unable to relax
- Irritable bowel syndrome
When someone has generalized anxiety disorder symptoms, their worry may not consume them at all periods of time, but there’s still almost always an underlying feeling of worry and anxiety for no discernible reason.
The worries can shift from one topic to another, or they can change over time.
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children and Teens
Children and teens may have symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder including:
- Worry about performance at school or in activities
- Fears about the safety of their family
- Concerns about being on time
- Fear of catastrophic events such as nuclear war
- Excessive time spent on homework and redoing tasks
- Lack of confidence
- Frequent stomachaches or physical complaints or symptoms
- Avoidance of school or social situations
If someone has generalized anxiety disorder, it can cause or make worse certain health conditions including chronic pain, digestive and bowel issues, headaches, and migraines, and sleep problems.
How Is GAD Diagnosed?
If you recognize the symptoms and side effects of generalized anxiety disorder in yourself or a loved one, how is it diagnosed? You can visit your primary care doctor who may ask you questions about your physical and mental health history and learn more about when you feel anxious. They may advise you to see a psychologist, psychiatrist or another mental health professional if they believe you do have the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
There aren’t specific lab tests that are used to diagnose GAD. Rather, there are certain symptoms a health care provider will ask about, many of which focus on the level of impairment GAD might cause in your life.
For a GAD diagnosis to be made, typically the symptoms occur more days than not in at least six months. A GAD diagnosis also requires the symptoms to impact daily life.
How Are the Symptoms for Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treated?
There are different treatments available if someone has symptoms for generalized anxiety disorder. The two primary treatment types are medication and psychotherapy, which is also known as talk therapy. Many people’s health care providers will recommend a combination of both, depending on their specific symptoms and the severity of their generalized anxiety disorder.
Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a form of counseling. You work with a therapist to reduce symptoms of anxiety, and cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective types of therapy for generalized anxiety disorder. For people who might not be able to go to therapy in person for any reason such as scheduling or location limitations, online cognitive-behavioral therapy is available as well. With an online therapy provider such as Online-Therapy.com, you can work on understanding more about your thoughts and how they affect you and your anxiety.
During cognitive-behavioral therapy, you can work on learning skills to manage your anxiety and worry.
Medications for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Another treatment if you have the symptoms for generalized anxiety disorder is medication. There are three different types of medications most often prescribed for generalized anxiety disorder.
One is antidepressants including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Some of the brand-name antidepressants that fall into these categories and are used to treat symptoms for generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Effexor XR
Another option is an anti-anxiety medication called buspirone.
Much less frequently someone might be prescribed benzodiazepines like Xanax. Benzodiazepines are not usually a first choice treatment for generalized anxiety disorders because they are potentially habit-forming, and they are only intended as a short-term acute anxiety treatment.
The symptoms for generalized anxiety disorder include persistent ongoing fear and worry that’s out-of-proportion to the situation at hand. Generalized anxiety disorder can significantly diminish a person’s quality of life, but treatments are available including psychotherapy and medication.
Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).” Accessed February 28, 2019.
WebMD. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Accessed February 28, 2019.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Generalized Anxiety Disorder.” Mayo Clinic. October 13, 2017. Accessed February 28, 2019.