Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive anxiety and fear over everyday events and activities. Everyone has things that they worry about, but the worries associated with GAD are much more excessive than what would be considered normal. The symptoms are more pronounced, distressing, and pervasive than the typical worries of everyday life. People with GAD worry even when there is little or no reason to worry.
Individuals suffering from generalized anxiety disorder report that their anxiety seems to come out of nowhere and is typically not a direct response to anything they can identify. The anxiety that people with GAD experience is continuous, and they may find that they have difficulty recognizing times when they are not worrying. They struggle to control their anxiety, which often only serves to make the problem worse. These individuals may then develop a sense of helplessness if nothing they try alleviates their anxiety. Ultimately, the symptoms and effects of GAD can begin to interfere in all areas of their life, leading to distress as they find it difficult to function appropriately on a daily basis.
While there is no cure for generalized anxiety disorder, the symptoms can be successfully managed. With the right treatments and support, someone with GAD can live a happy and normal life. Our residential program for anxiety in South Atlanta (Riverdale) Georgia helps individuals struggling with GAD manage the symptoms and address underlying causes of the anxiety which allows leading healthier and more fulfilling lives.
In the United States, it is estimated that 0.9% of adolescents and 2.9% of adults suffer from GAD in a given year. However, the lifetime risk for developing the disorder is 9%. Females are twice as likely to experience GAD as men. However, it has been suggested that this proportion may not be accurate as men are less likely than women to report anxiety symptoms. The average age of onset for GAD is 30 years old with the incidence rate generally peaking in adulthood and middle age.
GAD rarely occurs alone. The most common co-occurring disorders include:
- Other anxiety disorders (e.g. panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, social phobia, simple phobia, agoraphobia, separation anxiety)
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
There are a number of different factors that have been hypothesized as being potential causes for the development of generalized anxiety disorder. Some of these factors may include:
Genetics: Numerous studies have supported a genetic component behind the development of GAD. An individual with a first degree relative who has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder will have a greater chance of developing GAD as compared to individuals without any family history of anxiety.
Brain Structure: There are certain parts of the brain that regulate fear, memory, and stress. Studies indicate that in individuals with GAD, these areas of the brain are highly sensitive to unfamiliar or unpredictable situations. Since no one can fully predict what is going to occur next, people with GAD react by becoming anxious almost all the time. Additionally, the brain may interpret physiological reactions that resemble stress reactions and assume that anxiety is appropriate, therefore producing it regardless of any discernible threat or danger.
Neurotransmitters: Research has shown that general anxiety disorder has been associated with abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine each play a role in anxiety control. When there are abnormal levels of these neurotransmitters, messages in the brain may not be communicated properly. Thus, the brain may evaluate non-threatening situations incorrectly, signaling to the body that danger is near. Although the individual may not know what is causing his or her fear, he or she reacts to the brain’s message and experiences a state of anxiety.
Environmental: Individuals who have experienced severe stressors, such as traumatic events, the death of a loved one, dangerous situations, divorce, sudden illness, or job loss, are more likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder.
Signs and Symptoms of GAD
There are a number of signs and symptoms that are hallmarks of GAD. These can include:
- Chronically excessive and unrealistic worry
- The worry is connected to numerous things in the individual’s life (e.g. work, school, the future, and social situations)
- The worry may not be connected to anything identifiable
- The worry is excessive or unwarranted
- The worry is impossible to control
- Having an awareness that the worrying is excessive
- Feeling light-headed
- Trouble with concentration, attention, and memory
- Difficulty making decisions
- Mind going blank
- Irritability and agitation
- Muscle tension
- Bodily aches and pains
- Rapid pulse, elevated hearth rate, difficulty breathing at times
- The need to go to the bathroom frequently
- Exaggerated startle response
- Sleep problems
- Having difficulty swallowing
- Unrealistic view of problems
Effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
While the symptoms of GAD may wax and wane over the life span, this disorder rarely remits without treatment and can negatively impact all areas of life. Therefore, it is important to receive help if you believe you or someone you love is suffering from this disorder.
As a result of excessive worrying, GAD can have a huge impact on an individual’s life. Some of the long-term effects that untreated GAD can have on an individual may include:
- Problems functioning or effectively working at one’s job
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Social isolation
- Withdrawal from activities once enjoyed
- Marital problems
- Difficulty carrying out daily activities
- Inability to do things quickly or accurately
- Inability to interact normally with others
- Feeling unable to do anything to make things better
- Loss of self-esteem due to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- The individual loses the motivation to try to make things better