11 Signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. You might worry about things like health, money, or family problems. But people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) feel extremely worried or feel nervous about these and other things—even when there is little or no reason to worry about them. People with GAD find it difficult to control their anxiety and stay focused on daily tasks.
What is Generalized Anxiety disorder (GAD)?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) Stats, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is one of the most common anxiety disorders and affects approximately 3.1% of the American adult population. With 6.8 million reported cases among American adults aged 18 and older, the average age of onset is 31 years old. While it can occur at any point of life, the most common points of onset occur between childhood and middle age. If you are a woman, you are twice as likely to suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder than men.
People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school. In people with GAD, the worry is often unrealistic or out of proportion for the situation. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread. Eventually, the anxiety so dominates the person’s thinking that it interferes with daily functioning, including work, school, social activities, and relationships.
Signs and symptoms
GAD affects the way a person thinks, but the anxiety can lead to physical symptoms, as well. Research shows symptoms of GAD can include:
The 11 symptoms of GAD
- Excessive worrying. One of the most common symptoms of GAD is excessive worrying. To be considered a sign of GAD, the worrying must occur on most days for at least six months and be difficult to control. The worrying must also be severe and intrusive, making it difficult to concentrate and accomplish daily tasks.
- Feeling agitated. It is normal for someone who is feeling anxious to feel agitated but people with GAD experience this type of arousal for extended periods of time and are not able to reduce the arousal as quickly as those without GAD.
- Restlessness. When someone is experiencing restlessness, they often describe it as feeling “on edge” or having an “uncomfortable urge to move.” While restlessness does not occur in all people with GAD, it is one of the red flags doctors frequently look for when making a diagnosis. The restlessness must occur on the majority of days for more than six months.
- Fatigue. Becoming easily fatigued or chronic fatigue is another symptom of GAD. This symptom can be surprising to some, as GAD is commonly associated with hyperactivity or arousal.
- Difficulty concentrating. Difficulty concentrating is a reported symptom in the majority of people diagnosed with GAD
- Irritability. Most people with GAD report feeling highly irritable, especially when their anxiety is at its peak.
- Muscle tension. People with GAD often experience tense muscles on most days of the week. While tense muscles may be common, it’s not fully understood why they’re associated with GAD. It is possible that muscle tenseness itself increases feelings of anxiety, but it is also possible that anxiety leads to increased muscle tenseness, or that a third factor causes both.
- Trouble falling or staying asleep. Sleep disturbances are strongly associated with GAD. Waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble falling asleep are the two most commonly reported problems. While insomnia and GAD are strongly linked, it is unclear whether insomnia contributes to GAD, if GAD contributes to insomnia, or both. What is known is that when the underlying GAD is treated, insomnia often improves as well
- Headaches. Chronic headaches and migraines are often a symptom of an anxiety disorder, particularly GAD.
- Sweating. Sweating is actually a natural stress response related to the “fight or flight” response, and it serves as an adaptation that actually has a lot of advantages. Sweat on the skin will eventually evaporate, cooling the body to prevent elevated internal temperatures. Unfortunately, sweating with GAD is not needed to cool the body, but merely causes an unwanted side effect that most individuals wish they could stop.
- Stomach problems. People with GAD often experience nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome.
Diagnosis and treatment of GAD
Living with GAD presents many challenges, but without treatment it can take all the joy out of life. The best thing anyone who struggles with anxiety can do is get a professional evaluation. A psychiatrist or other mental health professional will use observations, interviews, and other evaluation tools to determine if someone should be diagnosed with GAD or another anxiety disorder. With an accurate diagnosis from a professional, treatment can then begin.
Treatment for GAD is essential for living well with this chronic condition. Anxiety disorders have no cure, but they can be successfully managed with treatment and self-care. Medication is an important component of overall treatment for anxiety. Patients are often prescribed benzodiazepines to manage anxiety in the short-term and antidepressants, which take longer to begin working, for long-term management.
Along with medications, patients being treated with anxiety benefit from therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the gold standard for managing anxiety. CBT teaches patients to recognize negative thoughts and behaviors, to be aware of irrational worries and fears, and to take steps to change them. Additionally, a comprehensive GAD treatment plan includes teaching strategies for relaxation, for coping with stress, and for practicing healthy habits that combat anxiety.
Please do not use this video to diagnose yourself or anyone, and go to a professional instead.