GAD Recognizing and Managing Symptoms

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Experiencing anxiety is a normal part of life’s challenges. However, individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive feelings of worry, dread, and fear, often disproportionate to the circumstances. This means people with GAD feel high levels of anxiety about smaller, everyday situations in addition to major stressors.

People with GAD frequently imagine the “worst case scenario,” worry about things that haven’t happened, and struggle to calm their minds. Besides excessive worry, GAD can cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension, stomachaches, and fatigue.

While GAD can develop in children, it more commonly occurs during adulthood. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent type of mental health condition, with about 6% of adults in the U.S. experiencing GAD at some point in their lives. Recognizing the symptoms and knowing when to seek care is crucial.

Hallmark Symptoms

The primary symptom of GAD is excessive worry that feels uncontrollable. These feelings of worry aren’t always triggered by major life stressors; instead, people with GAD feel anxiety about everyday circumstances, such as job performance, chores, appointments, and the well-being of friends and family.

Individuals with GAD may feel anxious or fearful regardless of the situation. For instance, someone might worry about their job security despite receiving a good performance review or panic about being late for an appointment despite leaving the house on time. These feelings often interfere with daily activities and overall quality of life.

Emotional and Cognitive Symptoms

GAD affects thoughts and feelings about everyday situations, leading to various emotional and cognitive symptoms, including:

  • Racing and uncontrollable negative thoughts
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling nervous
  • Difficulty relaxing or calming the mind
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • Getting startled easily
  • Frequent tiredness
  • Irritability

Physical Symptoms

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Mental health conditions like GAD can also cause physical symptoms. Individuals with GAD might experience:

  • Restlessness (difficulty sitting still)
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomachaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Twitching
  • Excessive sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Frequent urination

Behavioral Symptoms

Since GAD impacts thoughts, mood, and the body, it often leads to behavioral changes such as:

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Avoiding anxiety-triggering situations
  • Procrastinating on important tasks
  • Changes in work or school performance
  • Skipping meals
  • Relationship conflicts
  • Increased irritability

Symptoms in Children

Childhood anxiety is common, with about 1 in 4 children experiencing it. Though more prevalent in adults, approximately 1% of children and 3% of adolescents have GAD. Similar to adults, children with GAD worry persistently about everyday tasks and future events. Children may worry about:

  • School performance
  • Natural disasters
  • Acceptance in friendships
  • Family members’ health and well-being
  • Their safety

Common symptoms of GAD in children include:

  • Difficulty performing daily tasks
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Getting upset easily
  • Changes in school performance
  • Perfectionism
  • Avoidance
  • Body aches
  • Sleep problems
  • Clinging to family members
  • Restlessness

Symptoms in Men

GAD is more frequently diagnosed in individuals assigned female at birth, but anxiety disorders in men are often overlooked. Men with GAD might exhibit:

  • Mainly physical symptoms (headaches, pain, sweating)
  • Constantly trying to solve the underlying cause of their anxiety
  • Concealing their worries or keeping their feelings to themselves

When to Contact a Healthcare Provider

It’s important to contact a mental healthcare provider if excessive anxiety and worry affect your life or the life of a loved one. A provider will likely rule out any physical causes of the symptoms and may use tools like the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-Item (GAD-7) to measure anxiety severity. GAD often co-occurs with other mental health conditions like depression and panic disorder.

Seek help from a healthcare provider if:

  • The excessive anxiety and worry last more than six months
  • Your work, school performance, or relationships are negatively affected
  • You notice depression symptoms (loss of interest in hobbies, changes in sleep, appetite loss) alongside anxiety
  • You experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide

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