Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) symptoms are more than just simple worry. Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms are related to distress and anxiety but are persistent, excessive and often out-of-control.
Some 6.8 million adults live with the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, making it one of the most common mental illnesses. To be diagnosed with GAD, a person must have exaggerated worries about everyday life for more than six months.
For example, a person with GAD may worry they will not be able to pay the mortgage each month, in spite of having a regular income. To this person, the idea of missing a mortgage payment brings about physical feelings of illness and tension, like fatigue and edginess.
Another person with a generalized anxiety disorder diagnosis may constantly worry about the safety of their family. When their spouse leaves for work, a person with GAD might be sick with worry that they will not come home again. They may worry daily their children will be kidnapped or hurt.
(Wondering if you have GAD. Take our generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) test.)
Diagnostic Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Symptoms
Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms used for diagnosis are defined in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR). The symptoms of GAD are seen in children, teens and adults although their diagnostic criteria are slightly different.
For a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder, an adult must show both of these symptoms while a child need only show one:1
- Excessive anxiety and worry on most days for more than six months; must affect a variety of different events or activities
- Difficulty controlling the worry
In addition, three symptoms from the following list must be seen in adults, while only one needs to be present in children for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder:
- Restlessness or feeling "on edge"
- Difficulty concentrating / mind going blank
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
For a diagnosis of GAD, the symptoms must significantly impact a person's life and not be better explained by a different anxiety disorder (see list of anxiety disorders), other mental illness or substance use.
Other Signs of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
While the above criteria are used to diagnose GAD, other signs are also common in people with generalized anxiety disorder. These additional signs of GAD may be disorder-related or are known to commonly occur with the disorder.
Signs of generalized anxiety disorder include:2
- Feeling twitchy or are easily startled
- Nausea / diarrhea
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate
- Another chronic health problem
- Excessive stress
- Substance use
Children and adolescents can experience all the same symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, but other signs may also be present. For example, the worries of a child may be different than the worries of an adult. A young person may be worried about school, sports, punctuality or catastrophic events like an earthquake.
Other signs of generalized anxiety disorder in children and adolescents include:
- Anxiety and obsession over fitting in
- Desire to be perfect; redoing work that isn't considered perfect
- Lack of confidence
- Approval-seeking; requiring repeated reassurance about performance
- Rigid behavior
Children who have endured abuse or trauma or have witnessed trauma are most likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder.