What is generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD) is characterized by excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. In people with GAD, the worry is often unrealistic or out of proportion for the situation. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person’s thinking that it interferes with daily functioning, including work, school, social activities, and relationships.
How common is generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder among older adults, though anxiety disorders in this population are frequently associated with traumatic events such as a fall or acute illness. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder?
The common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are:
- Excessive, ongoing worry and tension
- An unrealistic view of problems
- Restlessness or a feeling of being “edgy”
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
- The need to go to the bathroom frequently
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Being easily startled
In addition, people with GAD often have other anxiety disorders (such as panic disorder or phobias), obsessive-compulsive disorder, clinical depression, or additional problems with drug or alcohol misuse.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- You feel like you’re worrying too much, and it’s interfering with your work, relationships or other parts of your life
- You feel depressed, have trouble with drinking or drugs, or you have other mental health concerns along with anxiety
- You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors — seek emergency treatment immediately
Your worries are unlikely to simply go away on their own, and they may actually get worse over time. Try to seek professional help before your anxiety becomes severe — it may be easier to treat early on.
What causes generalized anxiety disorder?
As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder isn’t fully understood, but it may include genetics as well as other risk factors.
What increases my risk for generalized anxiety disorder?
There are many risk factors for generalized anxiety disorder, such as:
- A person whose temperament is timid or negative or who avoids anything dangerous may be more prone to generalized anxiety disorder than others are.
- Generalized anxiety disorder may run in families.
- Being female. Women are diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder somewhat more often than men are.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed?
To help diagnose generalized anxiety disorder, your health provider may:
- Do a physical exam to look for signs that your anxiety might be linked to an underlying medical condition
- Order blood or urine tests or other tests, if a medical condition is suspected
- Ask detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history
- Use psychological questionnaires to help determine a diagnosis
Many experts use the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, to diagnose mental conditions. This manual is also used by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
DSM-5 criteria for generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Excessive anxiety and worry about several events or activities most days of the week for at least six months
- Difficulty controlling your feelings of worry
- At least three of the following symptoms in adults and one of the following in children: restlessness, fatigue, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension or sleep problems
- Anxiety or worry that causes you significant distress or interferes with your daily life
- Anxiety that isn’t related to another mental health condition, such as panic attacks or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, or a medical condition
Generalized anxiety disorder often occurs along with other mental health problems, which can make diagnosis and treatment more challenging. Some disorders that commonly occur with generalized anxiety disorder include:
How is generalized anxiety disorder treated?
The two main treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are psychotherapy and medications. You may benefit most from a combination of the two. It may take some trial and error to discover which treatments work best for you.
Also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling, psychotherapy involves working with a therapist to reduce your anxiety symptoms. It can be an effective treatment for generalized anxiety disorder.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder. Generally a short-term treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on teaching you specific skills to gradually return to the activities you’ve avoided because of anxiety. Through this process, your symptoms improve as you build on your initial success.
Several types of medications are used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, including those below. Talk with your doctor about benefits, risks and possible side effects.
- Antidepressants, including medications in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) classes, are the first-line medication treatments. Examples of antidepressants used to treat anxiety disorders include escitalopram (Lexapro), duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva). Your doctor also may recommend other antidepressants.
- An anti-anxiety medication called buspirone may be used on an ongoing basis. As with most antidepressants, it typically takes up to several weeks to become fully effective.
- In limited circumstances, your doctor may prescribe one of these sedatives for relief of anxiety symptoms. Examples include alprazolam (Niravam, Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan). Benzodiazepines are generally used only for relieving acute anxiety on a short-term basis. Because they can be habit-forming, these medications aren’t a good choice if you’ve had problems with alcohol or drug abuse.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage generalized anxiety disorder?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with generalized anxiety disorder:
- Keep physically active. Develop a routine so that you’re physically active most days of the week. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer. It may improve your mood and help you stay healthy. Start out slowly and gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activities.
- Avoid alcohol and other sedatives. These substances can worsen anxiety.
- Quit smoking and cut back or quit drinking coffee. Both nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
- Use relaxation techniques. Visualization techniques, meditation and yoga are examples of relaxation techniques that can ease anxiety.
- Make sleep a priority. Do what you can to make sure you’re getting enough sleep to feel rested. If you aren’t sleeping well, see your doctor.
- Eat healthy. Healthy eating — such as focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish — may be linked to reduced anxiety, but more research is needed.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Generalized anxiety disorder. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/basics/lifestyle-home-remedies/con-20024562. Accessed July 14, 2017.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder. http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/generalized-anxiety-disorder#1. Accessed July 14, 2017.
Facts & Statistics. https://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics. Accessed July 14, 2017.
Review Date: July 14, 2017 | Last Modified: July 14, 2017