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Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Causes, and Treatment

A person with a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experiences a heightened state of worry or anxiety for a long period without apparent reason. These feelings are uncontrollable; in most cases, the person is aware that their anxiety is unwarranted. For instance, even the thought of completing daily tasks can make them anxious. As with many other mental health issues, the exact cause is unknown. Even though there are many self-help techniques to manage the symptoms, it is important to consult a mental health professional to get a thorough diagnosis and learn the required treatment plan.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is common. It affects about 3% of the adult population. GAD can affect children and adults. The condition often begins in childhood or adolescence but may begin at any age. Women and people assigned female at birth are twice as likely to be affected by GAD as men and people assigned male at birth.

Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Bipolar Disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms can vary. They may include:

  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Inability to let go of a worry
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about several areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Fear of making the wrong decision
  • Having trouble relaxing, feeling restless, and feeling alert or on edge
  • Seeing situations and events as threatening even when they are not

Physical signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Nervousness or being easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability

Even when your worries don’t consume you, you still feel anxious even when there is no apparent reason. If you feel that something bad is about to happen, you may worry intensely about your safety or the safety of the people you love.

You experience significant distress because of your anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms. A person’s worries can change over time and may change from one concern to another.

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

A complex interaction between biological and environmental factors may contribute to generalized anxiety disorder, as with many mental health conditions.

  • Genetics 
  • Differences in brain chemistry and function
  • Differences in the way threats are perceived
  • Development and Personality

Risk Factors for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

These factors may increase the risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder:

  • A generalized anxiety disorder may run in families.
  • A person with a timid or negative temperament or who avoids anything dangerous may be more prone to generalized anxiety disorder than others.
  • Individuals with a generalized anxiety disorder may have a history of significant life changes and traumatic experiences during childhood. 

Treatment, Management and Prevention of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Depressed girl smoking
Depressed girl smoking

A lifestyle change can significantly affect people with anxiety disorders, even if they need psychotherapy or medications to control their anxiety. Here’s what you can do:

  • Make sleep a priority. Do what you can to ensure you are getting enough sleep. If you are not sleeping well, see your doctor.
  • Keep physically active. Develop a routine so you are physically active most days of the week. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer that may improve your mood and help you stay healthy. Start slowly and gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activities.
  • Eat healthily. Healthy eating such as focusing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, may be linked to reduced anxiety, but more research is needed.
  • Use relaxation techniques. Visualization techniques, meditation and yoga, are relaxation techniques.
  • Quit smoking and quit drinking coffee. 
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. These substances can worsen anxiety.

Medication can be used for anxiety: