What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is anxiety and worry that is excessive (chronic anxiety), unrealistic and often feels out of control. Keep in mind, it's normal for everyone to experience worry, particularly when life is stressful. However, when excessive worry, anxiety and physical symptoms like heart palpitations start to negatively impact day-to-day functioning, this can be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
(Concerned you might have GAD? Take our GAD test.)
Example of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Like many people, a person with generalized anxiety disorder might start their day worrying about getting their children off to school, on time and with a good breakfast. But someone with GAD may think that without this task going perfectly, their child won't be able to succeed at school - ever. The person with GAD may then spend hours throughout the day worrying about money and family security and feel sure that something bad is going to happen to a loved one. More worries might then keep the person pacing at night, unable to fall asleep. In spite of reassurances from others, the next day, the cycle starts all over.
GAD Crosses All Populations
Generalized anxiety disorder, also known simply as GAD, is a mental illness that effects between 4% - 7% of people over the course of their lifetime. An additional 4% of people may experience anxiety symptoms to a lesser extent. Generalized anxiety disorder is twice as common among women as among men. GAD occurs in children, adolescents and adults.1
Generalized anxiety disorder is known to be as negatively impacting on people's lives as other serious mental illnesses, such as major depressive disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Criteria
While many people with anxiety disorders experience anxiety in association with specific events or situations, GAD is different in that the anxiety can be overwhelming throughout life in general. The generalized anxiety disorder criteria are similar to that of other anxiety disorders, but the symptoms can appear at any place or time and sometimes without apparent reason.
According to the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder include psychological symptoms, like an inability to control worry, as well as physical symptoms like restlessness, fatigue and muscle tension. (Learn about the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.)
Generalized anxiety disorder often occurs alongside other anxiety disorders such as panic disorder or a phobic disorder. Other types of mental illness, including mood and substance use disorders along with sleep disorders, also commonly occur with GAD.
Treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Like with many mental illnesses, the exact causes of generalized anxiety disorder are not known but effective treatments have been identified. Treatments for generalized anxiety disorder include:
- Medications – antidepressants, sedatives and anti-anxiety medication may all be prescribed for GAD.
- Therapy – multiple types of therapy such as psychodynamic (talk) therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can help GAD.
- Lifestyle changes – relaxation, diet and exercise, quality sleep and avoiding alcohol can all help reduce generalized anxiety disorder symptoms.
You can find detailed information on generalized anxiety disorder treatment here.
Outlook for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Treatment
People with generalized anxiety disorder generally have a fair to excellent chance at recovery. Not all therapies work for all people though, so multiple techniques may have to be tried before the right one is found. Factors that help improve the chances of successful GAD recovery include:
- Education about GAD
- Quality therapy
- Access to quality healthcare (such as a psychiatrist)
- Treatment of any co-occurring disorders
Last Updated: 29 June 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD