Generalized Anxiety Disorder: When Worry Gets Out of Control
What Is 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.
The good news is that GAD is treatable. Call your doctor to talk about your symptoms so that you can feel better.
What are the signs and symptoms of GAD?
GAD develops slowly. It often starts during the teen years or young adulthood. People with GAD may:
- Worry very much about everyday things
- Have trouble controlling their worries or feelings of nervousness
- Know that they worry much more than they should
- Feel restless and have trouble relaxing
- Have a hard time concentrating
- Be easily startled
- Have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Feel easily tired or tired all the time
- Have headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches, or unexplained pains
- Have a hard time swallowing
- Tremble or twitch
- Be irritable or feel “on edge”
- Sweat a lot, feel light-headed or out of breath
- Have to go to the bathroom a lot
Children and teens with GAD often worry excessively about:
- Their performance, such as in school or in sports
- Catastrophes, such as earthquakes or war
Adults with GAD are often highly nervous about everyday circumstances, such as:
- Job security or performance
- The health and well-being of their children
- Being late
- Completing household chores and other responsibilities
Both children and adults with GAD may experience physical symptoms that make it hard to function and that interfere with daily life.
Symptoms may get better or worse at different times, and they are often worse during times of stress, such as with a physical illness, during exams at school, or during a family or relationship conflict.
What causes GAD?
GAD sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some family members have it while others don’t. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain, as well as biological processes, play a key role in fear and anxiety. By learning more about how the brain and body function in people with anxiety disorders, researchers may be able to create better treatments. Researchers are also looking for ways in which stress and environmental factors play a role.
How is GAD treated?
First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor should do an exam and ask you about your health history to make sure that an unrelated physical problem is not causing your symptoms. Your doctor may refer to you a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
GAD is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.
A type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is especially useful for treating GAD. CBT teaches a person different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to situations that help him or her feel less anxious and worried. For more information on psychotherapy, visit http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/psychotherapies.
Doctors may also prescribe medication to help treat GAD. Your doctor will work with you to find the best medication and dose for you.
What is it like to have GAD?
“I was worried all the time and felt nervous. My family told me that there were no signs of problems, but I still felt upset. I dreaded going to work because I couldn’t keep my mind focused. I was having trouble falling asleep at night and was irritated at my family all the time.
I saw my doctor and explained my constant worries. My doctor sent me to someone who knows about GAD. Now I am working with a counselor to cope better with my anxiety. I had to work hard, but I feel better. I’m glad I made that first call to my doctor.”
Where can I find more information?
To learn more about generalized anxiety disorder, visit:National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Office of Science Policy, Planning, and Communications
Science Writing, Press, and Dissemination Branch
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
National Institutes of Health
National Institute of Mental Health
NIH Publication No. QF 16-4677