What is General Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone experiences some level of anxiety from time to time. The planet often seems to be spinning at an increasingly fast pace and there are always issues demanding more time, attention and resources than we feel we have to give. Occasional anxiety about things like health, finance or family problems is a normal part of life. It can be stressful, for sure, but it is also par for the course for the world we inhabit. Exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday happenings with no obvious basis for that level of concern, however, is not normal. This can indicate a general anxiety disorder, also referred to as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Those struggling with generalized anxiety disorder always tend to expect the worst or anticipate disaster. They constantly live in a state of fear, anxiety, and dread that can become so extreme that it interferes with their ability to function at home, work and socially. GAD sufferers often recognize that their fears are unwarranted or unrealistic but are still unable to let them go.

Symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder

General anxiety disorder affects nearly 7 million adults in the U.S. It develops slowly, often beginning in the teen or young adult years, with the focus being on academic or athletic performance.  Physical symptoms of headaches, muscle aches, stomach issues or unexplained pains are not uncommon. Other indicators of GAD include:

  • Constant worry about everyday things
  • Inability to control anxiety or feelings of nervousness
  • Awareness that worry is out of proportion to what is actually happening
  • Feeling of unease or restlessness
  • Trouble relaxing
  • Difficulty with concentrating or maintaining focus
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Very easily startled
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Tire easily or general feeling of fatigue
  • Having a hard time swallowing
  • Body trembles or twitches
  • Feeling irritable or “on edge” with no apparent justification
  • Profuse sweating
  • Feeling light-headed or out of breath, even without physical exertion
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome

What Causes General Anxiety Disorder?

As is the case with so many mental health conditions, the exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder is unknown. It is believed that it is the result of some combination of biological and environmental factors. Some of those felt to be likely suspects include:

  • Genetics – does appear to run in families but researchers have not been able to determine why one family member will develop GAD while others do not.
  • Brain chemistry and function differences – there are indications that several parts of the brain, as well as biological processes, play a significant role in experiencing fear and anxiety.
  • Threat perception variations – how someone was taught to view the world can have a strong influence.
  • Development issues – such as a history of traumatic or negative experiences during childhood, or recent traumatic or negative events.
  • Personality – a timid or negative temperament may be more susceptible to generalized anxiety disorder than others.

Whether the worry and anxiety are realistic or not, the struggle with generalized anxiety disorder is real, and those affected should seek professional help sooner rather than later. Treatment will be determined by the impact that the disorder is having on the patient’s ability to function and will likely be a combination of psychotherapy and medications.