While great strides have been made in treatment of GAD, the actual cause for the disorder is not known. Research is now focused on better understanding how brain areas that process fear operate. In other words, the thought process that enables people to look at a situation, process the information and then determine if anxiety needs to “kick in” to stimulate action. In people with GAD, this process is experienced as a result of situations that don’t warrant a “flight or fight” type of response.

There is a strong suggestion that the tendency is inherited. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, more than five out of every 100 people will develop GAD at some point in their lives as a result of biological factors, family background and life experiences. For example, people who grew up with anxious role models may have learned to view the world as an uncontrollable and dangerous place.

Increased stress often appears to trigger the disorder, such as a death in the family, an illness, job loss or divorce. Stress from positive events such as marriage or a new job can also trigger it. But mental health professionals say stress is merely a trigger, not the cause.