Approximately one in five Americans and close to one billion people worldwide suffer from some form of mental illness as of 2019. General anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common of these illnesses, with nearly half of all Americans being diagnosed with some sort of anxiety disorder over the course of their lifetime. 

To understand more about what GAD is, who’s affected and what treatments are available, read on.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Worrying is a normal response to life situations, but most people can control worry by dealing with the problems or distracting themselves with other activities. Individuals with GAD tend to worry about everyday activities without cause, waiting for something to go wrong and generally living their daily lives in constant fear or worry.

The symptoms of GAD can last a long time and even be lifelong when left unaddressed. Typically, an individual with GAD is worried about a specific event — for example, an upcoming surgery or current finances. Once the situation rectifies itself, these feelings of excessive worry pass. GAD is often an ongoing condition that returns and can affect a person’s ability to function. It’s just one of the five major anxiety disorders.

Five Major Anxiety Disorders

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are five major types of anxiety disorders. These include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). One of the most common disorders, GAD is characterized by excessive worry and tension.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Includes obsessions or repetitive behaviors.
  • Panic disorder. Symptoms include repeated episodes of fear with physical symptoms that may include chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Develops after exposure to a terrifying event.
  • Social anxiety disorder. Characterized by anxiety and excessive self-consciousness when dealing with others on a daily basis.

How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

The GAD-7 scale was developed as an accurate measure to screen for GAD. Using the GAD-7 brief, adults aged 18 and older who’ve had anxiety symptoms in the past two weeks are asked a series of seven questions that measure anxiety symptoms. These questions cover symptoms, from how frequently the individual worries to how easy it is to relax. Someone with a score of 0 to 4 has minimal anxiety, scores from 5 to 9 mean mild anxiety and scores from 15 to 21 indicate severe anxiety.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2019, close to 3% of all adults experienced severe symptoms of anxiety, 3% experienced moderate anxiety, 10% experienced mild anxiety and approximately 84% experienced no or minimal symptoms.

Is There Treatment for GAD?

Treatment for GAD is provided by trained health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists and in milder cases, by general practitioners.

Treatment for GAD can take several forms and may include a combination of treatment techniques.

  • Medications, including antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake Inhibitors or SSRIs
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy or psychotherapy
  • Self-care, such as physical exercise, relaxation techniques and stress management
  • Therapy sessions that work on coping skills
  • Lifestyle changes to help reduce or alleviate stress, including quitting smoking and drinking 

Symptoms of GAD

People with GAD can experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Worrying excessively about everyday things
  • Feelings of nervousness
  • Feeling restless and having trouble relaxing
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trembling or twitching
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feelings of frequent urination
  • Feeling irritable
  • Lightheadedness and constantly feeling out of breath
  • Frequent tension headaches
  • Feeling sick or nauseated
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty concentrating

A child or teenager with GAD may also worry constantly about their performance in school or in extracurricular activities. They may worry about major catastrophes, like war or extreme weather, and they may feel anxious about the health or safety of family members.

Causes of GAD

The exact cause of anxiety disorders is unknown, but research suggests it’s a combination of factors, one of which is genetics. One study published by PLOS One reports the RBFOX1 gene may be involved in the development and ongoing condition of anxiety-related disorders. 

The development of parts of the brain, including the amygdala and hippocampus, is being studied as another cause of anxiety disorders. The amygdala is a small structure inside the brain that processes threats and alerts the brain to any signs of danger, such as fearing bees, drowning and dogs. 

Another part of the brain that may be responsible for anxiety is the hippocampus. This region is involved in storing memories from past events. Traumatic events may act as a trigger that causes a person to worry excessively when in certain circumstances — for example, when someone with prior combat experience is triggered by loud noises.

When Does GAD appear?

 GAD can appear at any time in an individual’s life, but it typically happens in the middle of a traumatic experience. It’s possible to develop GAD as either a child or an adult. 

The Cure for GAD

While there isn’t any one cure for GAD, this mental health condition is highly treatable. Anxiety disorders tend to affect people with specific personality types more than others, such as individuals who are more prone to worry. Most individuals who’ve been diagnosed with GAD describe themselves as lifelong worriers, and their tendency to overstress is visible to others, so the goal is treatment over a cure. 

When To See a Doctor

If you think you have excessive anxiety or feel like anxiety is taking over your life, it may be time to visit a health care professional. A small amount of anxiety is normal, but you should contact a health professional if:

  • Your worry becomes overwhelming and is interfering with relationships, work and other parts of your life
  • You feel irritable and depressed and have difficulty with alcohol or drugs due to your anxiety
  • You have suicidal thoughts or behaviors due to excessive worry

For more information on GAD and help with anxiety, contact us at Restore to learn more about our programs and how we can help. Call (844) 950-1070 to talk to a mental health practitioner and get started with treatment.