Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a relatively common disorder that affects approximately 2-3% of the adult U.S. population.
Generalized anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder where people experience excessive worry about two or more aspects of life (work, social, relational, financial, etc.) nearly every day and persists for months.
People with GAD may view their daily activities in an overly worrisome manner—even if they are not dangerous situations. GAD may cause those who experience it to alter their daily routines based on their excessive worry. For example, an individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder may avoid going to work if they’re feeling too overwhelmed.
People who have Generalized Anxiety Disorder experience persistent worry, even if there is little or no reason for concern.
They feel anxious most days of the week and generally expect things to go badly when they make plans, which is a source of distress.
GAD can also cause people to avoid certain situations, such as social gatherings or events where they may be exposed to triggers that make them feel anxious. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is often diagnosed when a person’s excessive worry and fear of everyday situations begin to impact their daily activities.
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder include:
- Excessive anxiety and worry
- Finding it difficult to control worry
- Feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
It can be difficult for people to realize they are experiencing GAD because they may not associate their symptoms with the disorder. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is often diagnosed only after a person has experienced it for six months, even though symptoms can begin to occur as early as childhood or adolescence.
Treatment options include medication and/or psychotherapy for anxiety (cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment). Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on changing unhelpful thinking and behaviors that contribute to Generalized Anxiety Disorder. People in therapy may also learn relaxation techniques that can be used when experiencing anxiety or worry.
People with GAD benefit from learning how to recognize anxious feelings, thoughts, and sensations; how to acknowledge these as simply being present rather than something harmful; coping strategies for dealing with them (e.g., cognitive restructuring); and practicing these strategies to help reduce GAD symptoms.
Ways to cope with Generalized Anxiety Disorder include:
- Accepting your anxiety as a normal response, even though it may be uncomfortable or difficult for you at times.
- Monitoring thoughts that trigger anxiety (e.g., asking yourself “is this thought helpful?”).
- Practicing relaxation techniques (e.g., mindfulness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation) to keep GAD symptoms under control throughout the day.
- Exercising regularly and practicing other healthy habits that can help Generalized Anxiety Disorder symptoms fade into the background of your life.