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What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. People with the disorder experience exaggerated worry and tension, often expecting the worst, even when there is no apparent reason for concern. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues.


Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. They don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.


GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected.


The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age.


Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, there is evidence that biological factors, family background, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role.


When their anxiety level is mild, people with GAD can function socially and be gainfully employed. Although they may avoid some situations because they have the disorder, some people can have difficulty carrying out the simplest daily activities when their anxiety is severe.


Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by six months or more of chronic, exaggerated worry and tension that is unfounded or much more severe than the normal anxiety most people experience.

People with this disorder usually:

  • Expect the worst

  • Worry excessively about money, health, family or work, when there are no signs of trouble

  • Are unable to relax

  • Are irritable

  • Are easily startled

  • Can't control their excessive worrying

  • Suffer from insomnia


Common body symptoms are:

  • feeling tired for no reason;

  • headaches;

  • muscle tension and aches;

  • having a hard time swallowing;

  • trembling or twitching;

  • sweating;

  • nausea;

  • feeling lightheaded;

  • feeling out of breath;

  • having to go to the bathroom a lot; and

  • hot flashes


***In children and adolescents with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, their anxieties and worries are often associated with the quality of performance or competence at school or sporting events. Additionally, worries may include punctuality, conformity, and perfectionism; they are so unsure of themselves that they will redo tasks in order to reach that level of perfection.

Treatments: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) 

Extreme, unfounded worry that can interfere with sleep is usually accompanied by body symptoms ranging from tiredness to headache to nausea. Treatment with antidepressants or other medications and psychotherapy, alone or combined, may alleviate the condition. Medication and specific types of psychotherapy are the recommended treatments for this disorder. The choice of one or the other, or both, depends on the patient's and the doctor's preference, and also on the particular anxiety disorder. For many people, the best approach to treatment is medication combined with therapy. It is important to give any treatment a fair trial. And if one approach doesn't work, the odds are that another one will.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is very useful in treating anxiety disorders. The cognitive part helps people change the thinking patterns that support their fears, and the behavioral part helps people change the way they react to anxiety-provoking situations.

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