Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

If you tend to worry a lot, even when there’s no reason, you may have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD means that you are worrying constantly and can’t control it. Healthcare providers diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least 6 months. GAD is one of the most common mental disorders in the U.S.

Worrying may be something you've become used to. You may think it’s just how you are. Common worries include your health, money, family, or work. Everyone worries about these things once in a while. But if you always expect the worst, it can get in the way of living a normal life.  

GAD begins slowly, often in childhood or the teen years. But it can begin in adulthood, too. It's more common in those assigned female at birth and often runs in families.

If you have GAD, you may also have another mental health condition such as depression.

What causes GAD?

GAD can develop when you can’t cope well with your internal stress. But it’s not clear why some people get it and others don’t. Experts have shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are affected.

Sometimes the symptoms of GAD can happen as a side effect of a medicine or of substance abuse. It can also be linked to health conditions (such as hyperthyroidism) that increase hormones. This can make the body response more excitable. GAD can be triggered by family or environmental stress. Long-term (chronic) illness and disease can also trigger GAD.

What are the symptoms of GAD?

If you have GAD, you likely know that your anxiety is more intense than the situation calls for. But you still can’t stop these unfounded concerns. Each person's symptoms may be a bit different. The most common symptoms are:

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Trembling

  • Twitching

  • Tense muscles

  • Headaches

  • Grouchiness

  • Sweating

  • Hot flashes

  • Lightheadedness

  • Trouble breathing

  • Upset stomach (nausea)

  • Urinating often

  • Lump in the throat

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)

  • Trouble focusing

  • Trouble making decisions

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Being easily startled

  • Unable to relax

The symptoms of GAD may seem like other mental health conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is GAD diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider or mental health provider diagnoses GAD. They can help figure out if your symptoms are linked to another problem. To be diagnosed with GAD, the symptoms happen on most days and last 6 months or longer.

How is GAD treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Medicine

  • Counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy)

  • Relaxation methods

  • Working with a therapist to boost coping skills

  • Making lifestyle changes (such as exercise) to reduce stress, staying away from stimulating substances, and getting help with quitting smoking or drug or alcohol use

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If you have any symptoms of GAD, see your healthcare provider.

Key points about GAD

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition where you worry constantly about everyday issues and situations.

  • Healthcare providers diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least 6 months.

  • You may also feel restlessness, extreme tiredness (fatigue), trouble focusing, grouchiness, increased muscle tension, and trouble sleeping.

  • Treatment may include medicine, counseling, relaxation methods, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

  • If you have GAD, you may also have another mental health condition such as depression.       

  • Seeking professional care and treatment can decrease GAD symptoms and improve the quality of your life.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions, especially after office hours and on weekends and holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
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