Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) causes feelings of intense anxiety, worry, or nervousness about everyday life. People with GAD struggle to control these feelings, and the condition tends to interfere with daily activities and personal relationships.
Living with anxiety can be challenging. However, like other anxiety disorders, GAD is highly treatable. Some of the most effective treatments include psychotherapy, medication, and making lifestyle changes.
In this article, we provide an overview of GAD, including its symptoms and causes. We also list some potential treatment options.
A person with GAD may experience uncontrollable and persistent worries, fears, and concerns.
The symptoms of GAD can vary from one individual to another.
Symptoms may get better or worse at different times. Periods of high stress or physical illness, for example, often cause symptoms to worsen for a while.
Emotional and cognitive symptoms of GAD include:
- uncontrollable and persistent worries, fears, and concerns
- an inability to deal with uncertainty about the future
- intrusive thoughts
- excessive planning and troubleshooting
- difficulty making decisions
- fear of making the “wrong” decision
- problems concentrating
- an inability to relax
Physical symptoms include:
- tense or tight muscles
- aches and pains
- difficulty sleeping
- feeling restless, jumpy, or twitchy
- digestive problems, such as nausea or diarrhea
- being easily startled
- excessive sweating
- needing to urinate more frequently than usual
Behavioral symptoms include:
- being unable to relax or spend “quiet” time alone
- switching between tasks or not finishing tasks due to finding it difficult to concentrate
- spending excessive amounts of time completing simple tasks
- redoing tasks because they are not “perfect”
- avoiding situations that trigger anxiety, including socializing with others and speaking in public
- missing school or work due to fatigue, fear, or other symptoms
- requiring reassurance and approval from others
The presence of other conditions
People with GAD often have co-occurring conditions. These may include:
- other anxiety disorders, such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or social anxiety
- drug or alcohol misuse
A doctor may use a psychological questionnaire to diagnose GAD.
A doctor or mental health professional may diagnose GAD according to the criteria in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
To receive a diagnosis of GAD, a person must have:
- excessive anxiety and worry in several areas of their life on more days than not for at least 6 months
- difficulty controlling these worries
- at least three of the following symptoms (or just one symptom in the case of children):
- difficulty concentrating
- tense muscles
- sleep problems
- significant distress or problems functioning in social settings or at work
Also, these symptoms must not result from substance use or another medical condition.
To confirm a diagnosis or rule out physical conditions that may be causing symptoms, a doctor may:
- perform a physical examination
- take a detailed medical and family history
- use a psychological questionnaire
- order blood or urine tests
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