Generalized anxiety disorder – Symptoms and causes

We all experience anxiety from time to time, whether it’s a result of a challenging situation or an upcoming event. But for some individuals, anxiety is more than just a passing feeling of worry or nervousness. It can become a chronic and overwhelming condition that affects their daily lives. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a type of anxiety disorder that can cause a range of physical and psychological symptoms. In this article, we will explore the symptoms and causes of GAD, as well as treatment options for those who are struggling with this condition.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic condition characterized by persistent and excessive worry about various aspects of life, such as work, family, relationships, health, and finances. People with GAD tend to worry excessively, even when there is no apparent reason to do so. They may also feel tense or on edge, and have difficulty controlling their worrying thoughts. GAD affects around 6.8 million adults in the United States, with women being twice as likely to be affected as men.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can vary from person to person, but typically include a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. These symptoms can significantly impact an individual’s ability to carry out their daily activities, maintain relationships, and perform at work. Below are some common symptoms of GAD.

Physical Symptoms

  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or stomach problems
  • Insomnia

Emotional Symptoms

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Persistent worry
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Inability to relax

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Avoiding certain situations or activities due to fear or worry
  • Procrastinating or putting things off
  • Seeking reassurance from others excessively
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

It’s essential to note that the severity of these symptoms may vary from person to person. While some people may experience mild symptoms, others may have more severe and debilitating symptoms that significantly impact their daily lives.

Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The exact causes of generalized anxiety disorder are not yet fully understood. However, research has identified several factors that may contribute to the development of this condition. Some of these factors include:

  1. Genetics: Studies have suggested that genetics may play a role in the development of GAD. It’s been found that the risk of developing GAD is higher among people who have a family history of anxiety disorders.
  2. Brain chemistry: GAD may be linked to an imbalance of chemicals in the brain that regulate mood and emotions, such as serotonin and norepinephrine.
  3. Environmental factors: Traumatic life events, such as abuse, neglect, or the death of a loved one, can increase the risk of developing GAD.
  4. Personality: People who are naturally more sensitive, perfectionists, or have low self-esteem may be more prone to developing anxiety disorders.


Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Treatment for generalized anxiety disorder usually involves a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. The aim of treatment is to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and help people manage their worries more effectively. Below are some of the most common treatment options for GAD.

  1. Medication: Anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, are often prescribed to help manage the symptoms of GAD. However, these medications can be habit-forming and may cause side effects such as drowsiness and confusion. Antidepressant medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), are also commonly used to treat GAD. These medications can take several weeks to start working, but they are less habit-forming and have fewer side effects than benzodiazepines.
  2. Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective form of psychotherapy for treating GAD. CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety. Through CBT, people with GAD learn how to challenge their anxious thoughts, develop relaxation techniques, and improve their problem-solving skills.
  3. Lifestyle changes: Making changes to one’s lifestyle can also help manage the symptoms of GAD. These changes may include regular exercise, stress-reducing techniques, such as mindfulness meditation or yoga, and a healthy diet. Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can also help reduce the symptoms of anxiety.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between GAD and other anxiety disorders? GAD is a type of anxiety disorder that is characterized by excessive worry about various aspects of life. Other anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias, are characterized by specific fears or anxieties.

How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed? To diagnose GAD, a doctor or mental health professional will conduct a thorough evaluation that includes a physical exam, a psychological evaluation, and a discussion of the person’s symptoms and medical history.

Can GAD be cured? While there is no cure for GAD, it is a treatable condition. With the right treatment, people with GAD can manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

Can lifestyle changes alone treat GAD? While lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of GAD, they are not usually enough to treat the condition alone. A combination of medication and psychotherapy is usually required to manage GAD effectively.

What should I do if I think I have GAD? If you think you may have GAD, it’s essential to seek help from a healthcare professional. A doctor or mental health professional can evaluate your symptoms and recommend the most appropriate treatment for you.


Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic condition that can cause a range of physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. While the exact causes of GAD are not yet fully understood, treatment options are available to manage the symptoms of this condition. With the right treatment, people with GAD can learn how to manage their worries more effectively and lead fulfilling lives. If you think you may have GAD, it’s essential to seek help from a healthcare professional to get the most appropriate treatment for your condition.

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