What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Causes & Symptoms?

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Causes & Symptoms?


Panic attacks are a common phenomenon and can happen with any anxiety disorder. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. People who experience generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) exhibit excessive concern about multiple events or activities most days of the week.

While it is not unusual for people to experience some stress as they go about their daily lives, GAD sufferers rarely get a break from worrying.

GAD affects about 6.8 million American adults, and strikes twice as many women as men, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America(ADAA).That translates to about 3.1 percent of the adult population suffering from the disorder, and about one-third of those cases can be classified as severe.

Types Of Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety is a key part of several different disorders. These include:

  • Panic disorder: experiencing recurring panic attacks at unexpected times. A person with panic disorder may live in fear of the next panic attack.
  • Phobia: excessive fear of a specific object, situation, or activity.
  • Social anxiety disorder: extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder: recurring irrational thoughts that lead you to perform specific, repeated behaviors.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: fear of being away from home or loved ones.
  • Illness anxiety disorder: anxiety about your health (formerly called hypochondria).
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): anxiety following a traumatic event).

Symptoms of Anxiety Disorder

Though people who suffer from GAD worry about the same things that other people do — relationships, money, health, work, etc. — they have a much higher level of worry that is nearly constant. Anxiety feels different depending on the person experiencing it. Feelings can range from butterflies in your stomach to a racing heart. You might feel out of control, like there’s a disconnect between your mind and body.

Other ways people experience anxiety include nightmares, panic attacks, and painful thoughts or memories that you can’t control. You may have a general feeling of fear and worry, or you may fear a specific place or event.

Both children and adults can develop GAD, and symptoms can come on slowly, according to the Mayo Clinic. But in some instances, a major life event, such as a change in health, or a life transition such as a divorce, can trigger the onset of GAD.

“GAD patients have always been anxious to some degree, but an event such as a car accident, poor grades, relationship or work difficulties can enhance their anxiety.”

Symptoms of general anxiety include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Muscle tension
  •  Nervousness
  • Sweating
  •  Irritability and trembling
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Chills or hot flashes
  • Apprehension and worry
  • Distress
  • Fear

Your anxiety symptoms might be totally different from someone else’s. That’s why it’s important to know all the ways anxiety can present itself.

Like those with panic disorder, GAD sufferers have difficulty with everyday tasks, the NIMH noted. However, people with GAD are not gripped by an overwhelming fear and are typically able to function. However, some may be unable to perform even routine tasks during times when their symptoms are the worst, according to the NIMH.

What Could Cause Anxiety?

Researchers are not sure of the exact cause of anxiety, it may run in families, although as with all mental-health issues, the causes are typically a combination of biological and environmental factors, according to the Mayo Clinic.  But, it’s likely a combination of factors play a role. In addition, researchers believe that the areas of the brain responsible for controlling fear may be impacted.

Are There Tests That Diagnose General Anxiety Disorder?

A single test can’t diagnose anxiety. Instead, an anxiety diagnosis requires a lengthy process of physical examinations, mental health evaluations, and psychological questionnaires.

Some doctors may conduct a physical exam, including blood or urine tests to rule out underlying medical conditions that could contribute to symptoms you’re experiencing. Several anxiety tests and scales are also used to help your doctor assess the level of anxiety you’re experiencing.

Enduring a trauma, especially during childhood, is also linked to GAD, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those who experienced abuse or trauma as a child, including witnessing a traumatic event, are at higher risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder.

Connection To Addiction

Those with anxiety disorders are two to three times more likely than the general population to abuse alcohol or other substances at some point in their lives, according to the [ADAA]. About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression, have an alcohol or other substance-abuse disorder, according to the ADAA.

GAD sufferers are cautioned to avoid alcohol and drug use, even nicotine and caffeine, which can increase anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, as quitting can also cause anxiety, they recommend you see a doctor for a treatment program or support group that can help.


GAD can be treated with psychotherapy, medication or both, according to the NIMH. A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common method used to treat GAD and can be very helpful, according to the NIMH. This therapy teaches a patient new ways of thinking, behaving and reacting to situations.

Many GAD sufferers also benefit from self-help and support groups, where they can share their challenges and discuss coping mechanisms, according to the ADAA.  However the follow could also help:

  • Educate yourself.Just understanding what a panic attack is, how it manifests, how long it’ll last can be very valuable.
  • Try to think differently about your response.Being more open, accepting and compassionate about your symptoms can help, he noted. Tell yourself, “It’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with me, it doesn’t mean there’s anything dangerous here.”

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This article on "Hkitnob: Health Columns" is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.