What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

what is generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder affects around 6.8 million American adults in a given year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by excessive and uncontrollable worry about everyday life events or problems, such as work or family issues, for at least six months. When these worries are not managed properly they can lead to panic attacks and other symptoms that disrupt daily life. If you think you may be suffering from this condition it is important to know the signs so you can get help before it progresses further.

According to a study from researchers at the University of Cambridge in 2012, around 10 percent of all people will be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at some point in their lives. There are several types of anxiety disorders similar to a general anxiety disorder that make up around 40 million U.S. adults who have an anxiety disorder according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive and unrelenting worry about everyday things. GAD can be debilitating and affect different areas of your life. If you think that you might have GAD, there are 10 signs to look for:

You are constantly looking for something to worry about

Some people find themselves worrying about things that don’t even matter just so they have something to worry about. This is because the brain releases dopamine when you worry, which can be addictive and rewarding—akin to how gambling works.

Trouble concentrating

You have trouble concentrating on work because your brain keeps jumping from one topic to another without finishing anything first. People with GAD tend to suffer from ADHD-like symptoms, shifting quickly from task to task at hand. Your priority becomes learning how to manage anxiety rather than remaining productive or completing tasks effectively due to all the unnecessary clutter in your head.

Easily irritable

You feel irritable more often than happy compared with your peers of similar age and background. Emotions are complicated, and anxiety usually doesn’t make you happy at the moment. It is not clinical depression, however; at least one study has shown that people with GAD tend to be happier than others when they reflect back on their life in general.

Muscle tension

You have muscle tension or pain more often than expected for your age group. When muscles are chronically tightened, it can lead to chronic pain over time due to strain placed on them from tension—a classic example of this would be someone who experiences frequent headaches. This can also manifest as aches and spasms throughout the body without an apparent reason which may persist for up to 9 months after initiating treatment.

Headaches and stomach aches

You frequently visit your doctor or therapist for physical complaints that have no apparent cause, such as headaches or stomach aches. This is a common symptom among people with GAD because the pain itself serves as a distraction from their anxiety and stress. It’s up to your doctor to figure out if it’s a true medical concern, but you need to find out why you are so anxious in order to get better.

Physically exhausted

You feel restless, having trouble sitting still at work or school because of worry yet feeling exhausted physically and emotionally when it is time for bed. In today’s society, there aren’t many ways to burn off excess energy besides working more hours at work or going out to socialize—neither of which are good options when you’re anxious.

Emotionally numb

You feel emotionally numb, unable to be fully present in relationships with family and friends. When your brain is hijacked by worry, it becomes difficult to connect with others because you are so busy thinking about what other things could go wrong. In the moment of silence between conversations, people with GAD tend to worry or think about other things instead of truly being there for their loved ones.

Excessive worrying

You often feel like you are “going through the motions” of life without actually feeling everything that you do. Life is supposed to be fun and exciting, but when your brain is occupied with worry, it’s hard to get excited about anything. This can be draining after time because it makes relationships boring and mundane when in reality they should be enjoyable.

Lack of focus

Your anxiety interferes with work or school activities more than twice per week on average. Sometimes people choose to ignore their anxious thoughts in order to complete an activity, which then leads to careless mistakes due to a lack of focus on what they are doing. Others might avoid certain tasks entirely if they know anxiety will interfere—missing deadlines or not turning in assignments on time—which also results in poor performance. It is advisable to see a medical expert because a lack of focus can affect the quality of your life in the long run.


You feel depressed, hopeless, and/or overwhelmed more often than expected by your environment. It’s easy to assume that it is simply due to stress or sadness about other things going on in life than anxiety, but after consistently feeling this way for an extended period of time then there should be a concern. Anxiety does not usually exist independently of depression; they tend to feed off each other over time making them both worse.

Causes/Risk Factors

The causes of GAD are often different for each person and there isn’t always a clear answer as to what caused the condition in the first place. Here are some possible reasons that someone might develop GAD and we’ll also look at how you can treat this condition if you or someone you love has been diagnosed with this mental health issue.

Genetic Causes

An individual may be more susceptible to developing GAD if they have a family history of the disorder or other mental health conditions. It is important to note that family history does not always mean a person will develop GAD, as there are other factors that cause it. No matter the genetic causes of anxiety, early intervention can make all the difference in one’s life.

Physical Health Conditions

There are some physical illnesses that can mimic symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, including hypoglycemia, hyperthyroidism, mitral valve prolapse, and asthma. While these medical issues may contribute to the development of GAD, they should not be viewed as its sole cause.

Neurotransmitter Imbalance

Some people with GAD do not respond well to traditional treatment because their condition is caused by an imbalance in neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) such as serotonin and norepinephrine. This type of generalized stress disorder is more likely to occur among women.

Psychological Causes

People with GAD often have a negative view of the world and see problems where none exist, but there is usually an event or trigger that causes this way of thinking to begin. Life stressors such as loss of employment, death in the family, poor interpersonal relationships, financial problems, and major life changes can all contribute to generalized anxiety disorder.


Substance abuse

GAD and substance abuse can co-occur with one another. The likelihood of this occurring is similar to the odds of both conditions appearing at once in people who suffer from depression (National Institute on Drug Abuse). Expert advice in dealing with either condition may be required in order to avoid self-medication behaviors that could exacerbate symptoms or interfere with recovery.

Panic disorder

This is when the anxiety presents itself as physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness (NHS Choices). At times, these symptoms mimic a heart attack and individuals tend to overreact when there isn’t an emergency present. If left untreated, the panic disorder could cause serious health problems down the line.


Psychotic disorders are usually rare but may occur in people with untreated GAD (Medline Plus). If an individual is struggling to differentiate reality from fantasy, they could be sent for treatment or even confined against their will. When it’s not possible to see the extent of mental illness, psychosis puts individuals at risk for substance abuse and self-injury behaviors as well.


This condition can’t always be linked back to GAD directly but is often related according to experts. Some medications used to treat anxiety result in depression as a side effect so it’s important that patients speak with medical professionals before stopping any medication that seems problematic (WebMD). Fortunately, depression can be treated with medication or psychotherapy.

Prevention Methods

Anxiety cannot be prevented in general, but there are ways to reduce the risk of genetic anxiety disorder. Individuals who have a close relative with an anxiety disorder are more likely to develop one themselves. Thus, if you have family members who suffer from a genetic anxiety disorder, it is possible to lower your chances of developing it by taking extra preventative measures. You could avoid watching television shows or movies that show people suffering from any kind of trauma or major illness. This will prevent images and words about genetic illnesses from being embedded into your mind’s eye, which could later cause you to worry excessively about them. It is also important not to take on other peoples’ worries as your own because this can instill fear and anxiety into your subconscious. However, if you believe that you may be predisposed to genetic anxiety disorder, it is important to talk to a doctor about getting tested for the condition.


There are several ways to treat genetic anxiety disorder without professional help; however, it is advisable to seek help from a psychiatrist or other mental health expert in order to deal with this condition effectively. There are several home remedies, like meditation and deep breathing exercises, that can reduce stress levels and make people feel more at ease. If these natural ways of dealing with stress do not work long term, there are antidepressant medications available that could lessen the effects of genetic anxiety disorder. These drugs will not cure you; however, they can make living with this condition more manageable.

If you know someone who is suffering from a genetic anxiety disorder, the best strategy for dealing with them is to try and help them relax. Try not to show that you are worried about yourself because this will cause the person to feel more stressed. Instead of showing your concern about their health, try asking them what will help them feel better or how you can support them so they do not worry as much. This will allow the sufferer to deal with their own feelings instead of trying to put on a brave face for others around them.

It is important for friends and family members of individuals with a genetic anxiety disorder to take care of themselves as well. When you neglect your needs in order to help someone else, you may eventually end up feeling much worse than the person you were trying to support. This could lead to resentment and anger, which can damage your relationship with the patient.


If you believe that genetic anxiety disorder is negatively affecting your life or the life of your loved one, please call a medical expert for assistance in finding a treatment program near you. Our friendly addiction advisors are available 24 hours a day to discuss potential options based on financial concerns as well as other factors unique to each patient. We will go over any questions or concerns that you might have and then provide referrals and recommendations based on the information we receive from you.


  • https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/generalized-anxiety-disorder
  • https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/facts-statistics
  • https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder