Written by:Reshawna Chapple

Published On: April 11, 2023

Medically reviewed by:Bisma Anwar

Reviewed On: June 1, 2021

Updated On: April 19, 2023


It’s quite normal to feel anxious when you’re faced with stress or difficulty. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to nerve-racking situations, events such as speaking in front of a large audience or going to a job interview. However, when this feeling of anxiety becomes a constant occurrence — and is characterized by extreme and uncontrollable bouts of worry over mundane events — it may be diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Understanding this condition can help a person identify the signs and symptoms of the condition, and get proper treatment. It can also help individuals better help others with anxiety.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that brings about feelings of intense worry or apprehension about everyday life, and interferes with a person’s ability to carry out their daily activities with ease. It is a common condition, which in any given year, affects over 6.8 million adults, in the United States alone, and can also be found in children. Women are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with this condition. Learn more about anxiety in women.

People who are affected by generalized anxiety disorder often find themselves unable to control the constant cycle of worry, even though they understand that the level of anxiety that they feel is not necessary in that situation. Sometimes, they may experience physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. In more serious cases, it can prevent a person from carrying out simple activities like leaving the house, and it can can affect their relationship with other people.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Research has shown that the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can gradually build up in a person’s life, but more commonly affects younger and middle-aged adults.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these symptoms may include:

  • Intense and persistent fears or worries
  • Inability to deal with uncertainty about future events
  • Having a constant sense of impending doom
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Excessive and meticulous planning
  • Fear of making the wrong decision
  • Hyperventilation and excessive sweating
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Inability to sleep or relax


Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the conditions grouped in the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-5 among other anxiety disorders that share the same features of excessive and uncontrollable worry such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder. The symptoms of each of these disorders are similar, so it is important to carefully identify the symptoms that affect you, with the help of an experienced and licensed mental health professional. You can also check out our anxiety test to better understand your symptoms.

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Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

As with many mental health conditions, the exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder remains largely unknown. However, the likelihood of developing this condition is increased by a combination of factors. There is evidence that suggests that having a family history of generalized anxiety disorder raises a person’s risk of developing it. This means that children of people with generalized anxiety disorder are more likely to develop the condition themselves than those whose parents do not suffer from it and that there is at least some form of genetic correlation.

Research has also shown that there is a link between anxiety disorders and neuroticism, a personality trait in which a person is more inclined towards feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, and negativity. The link between these two factors has led experts to believe that people with a nervous or pessimistic personality may be more likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder.

Risk factors

Apart from these circumstances, there are other risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing generalized anxiety disorder. Traumatic life experiences and misusing addictive substances are contributing factors, as well as having a chronic illness.

A study published in the Psychiatric Clinics of North America Journal suggests that symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders are thought to result in part from disruption in the balance of activity in the emotional centers of the brain rather than in the higher cognitive centers.This means that people with differences in brain chemistry and structure may be at an increased risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder. This is evident from the fact that functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of people affected by anxiety disorders shows an imbalance of serotonin — the brain chemical that is responsible for inducing happiness and other positive emotions — as well as other brain chemicals.

Generally, these risk factors can be moderated by early detection and intervention, and a strong social support system.

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Diagnosing Generalized Anxiety Disorder

There are several assessments that therapists use to make a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder. You can start with a general anxiety test from Talkspace.


One of the most common is the GAD-7, which is used by both primary care, licensed therapists, and psychiatrists. It’s an important tool when screening for symptoms and assessing the severity of common anxiety disorders, which include: generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, and panic disorder. Research has shown the test to have a sensitivity of between 70-90% and to be specific across disorders by a measure of 80-90%.

The higher the score on a GAD-7 test, the more severe your anxiety. The test is brief and you can even take it online as a preliminary screening (just for personal use, not as a diagnosis) before seeking help from a therapist or psychiatrist, who will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and get the help you need to feel better.


In addition to using the GAD-7, clinical professionals often look for the following symptoms, as classified by the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders:

  • Excessive worry
    You may experience excessive worry and anxiety over all kinds of activities, topics, or events. Often the worry is excessive, lasts for more than 6 months, and you are worried more often than you are not.
  • Difficulty controlling worry
    The worry is difficult to control and it may shift from one topic straight into another.
  • Physical symptoms
    There are physical or cognitive symptoms that accompany your worry, including:
    • Restlessness or edginess
    • More fatigued than is typical; getting tired easily
    • Feeling as though your mind goes blank or you have trouble concentrating
    • Feeling irritable, and not necessarily in a way that others notice
    • An increase in soreness or muscle aches
    • Difficulty sleeping including unsatisfying sleep, trouble staying asleep, or falling asleep


If you think you are suffering from anxiety, it’s important not to delay seeking help — the earlier you receive help, the sooner you can start feeling better. And, of course, the uncertainty of wondering whether you have the condition can further exacerbate your anxiety.

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Types of Anxiety Disorders

There is a history of division in the psychological community regarding how to classify different types of anxiety disorders. To be both inclusive and mindful of the APA’s decision, we made a comprehensive list of the different types of anxiety disorders ranging from having moderate anxiety to having overwhelming anxiety. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder

Selective Mutism in Children

Panic Disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Illness Anxiety Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Specific Phobias

GAD involves a constant and intense feeling of overwhelming anxiety regarding anything.

With social anxiety disorder, people have an intense fear of others judging them in a performance or social situation. 

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Related to SAD is selective mutism in children, an anxiety disorder where a child experiences an inability to speak in certain social settings such as school. 

Panic disorder involves experiencing a panic attack that can appear out of nowhere and occur unexpectedly.

Someone has separation anxiety disorder when they experience high levels of distress when separated from a caregiver. 

People with illness anxiety disorder have excessive worry about becoming ill or severely ill. 

OCD is a disorder in which a person has uncontrollable recurring thoughts [obsessions] and behaviors [compulsions] they feel the urge to repeat excessively. Rather than anxiety, during their compulsions, some people with OCD experience a feeling of disgust or something not being right.

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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves an extreme period of excessive anxiety, stress, and fight-or-flight responses that occur repeatedly despite there being no stressor. 

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People with a specific phobia avoid places, situations, objects, and even types of people — clowns, for example — even if there is no threat or danger. Even simply thinking about the fear can cause anxiety. 

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How to Treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder


Consulting a therapist is the most effective way to manage the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. There are many different types of therapy that can help treat generalized anxiety disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often recommended by mental health professionals, as it is proven with research to be safe and effective. 

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The treatment options available to a person affected by generalized personality disorder depend on the severity of that person’s symptoms, as well as the presence of other health conditions. Some people may require a combination of two or more treatment options, such as medication and behavioral therapy. 

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A healthcare professional may also recommend medication to help control the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder. An in-person or online psychiatrist may prescribe antidepressants or antianxiety medications like escitalopram (Lexapro), duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR) and paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva).

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Alternative Treatments

In some cases, natural remedies can help anxiety. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and consistent meditation can help ease stress and reduce the symptoms. Anxiety can also be managed by reducing exposure to stress-inducing activities, keeping a journal to identify anxiety triggers, and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule of 7-8 hours at least.

Learn more

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What is it like living with anxiety?

In this current era of global insecurity, coupled with an unstable political climate, it has become a matter of great importance to examine the prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder, as well as the social factors that may be contributing to it.

When you go through the news daily, chances are you will see countless, anxiety-inducing headlines informing you of the failing economy, epidemics, natural disasters, wars, and political turbulence. At the same time, you may be dealing with a number of personal issues — worries about your social life, health, or job security. For people living with generalized anxiety disorder, the pressures of the world today may seem like an insurmountable struggle.

In a survey conducted by the youth poll site MyVoice, it was shown that a majority of American teenagers and young adults experience physical or emotional distress as a result of the current political climate. Most of the youth are affected by insomnia, difficulty concentrating, and overeating — which is also coupled with emotional issues including depression, anxiety, and fear. There is now a challenge to deal with the current social, economic, and political issues affecting the world today, while offering support and protection to those who are affected by anxiety disorders here and now. This is the most effective way to control the steady increase in the number of people affected by generalized anxiety disorder.

There is no doubt that most of the things we worry endlessly about are unlikely to come true. Being anxious is a normal part of life, but excessive anxiety and worry may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder, and it is important to seek treatment as early as possible — why live with disruptive anxiety when a healthy and productive life is easily within reach?

What types of therapy are used for treating anxiety?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often recommended by mental health professionals, as it is proven to be safe and effective. Research has also shown that it reduces the level of anxiety in people affected by generalized anxiety disorder. Mindfulness and commitment-based therapy has also been deemed an effective treatment option.

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