Symptoms of GAD include restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension, and irritability. There are many ways to treat these symptoms.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is more than just the worries most people will experience on occasion.

GAD is a type of anxiety disorder that’s chronic, involving excessive worry and tension even when there’s nothing to provoke it.

While it can be challenging to live with this condition, you’re not alone.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 5.7% of U.S. adults will experience GAD at some point in their lives.

In fact, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey, more than 15% of adults in the United States experienced mild (9.5%), moderate (3.4%), or severe (2.7%) symptoms of anxiety in 2019 on the GAD-7 scale.

This self-report scale helps identify if you have GAD, and assesses the severity of your symptoms.

Symptoms of GAD will vary from person to person, as well as the causes of anxiety. But the condition is treatable.

According to the DSM-5 criteria, to be diagnosed with GAD you must experience your symptoms for most days over a 6-month period. You must have 3 or more of the following 6 symptoms in this period:

  • feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge
  • having difficulty concentrating or feeling like your mind is “blank”
  • being irritable
  • fatiguing easily
  • feeling tension in your muscles
  • experiencing sleep issues such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep

Children don’t need to meet as many criteria to be diagnosed with GAD. Only one symptom — rather than three — is required to be diagnosed.

However, symptoms of GAD can go beyond the diagnostic symptoms outlined above, and can include:

  • feeling a general sense of nervousness
  • being easily startled
  • experiencing headaches, muscle aches, or stomachaches, or other unexplained pains
  • having difficulty swallowing or feeling a lump in your throat
  • twitching or trembling
  • sweating a lot or experiencing hot flashes
  • feeling lightheaded or out of breath
  • feeling nauseated
  • having to use the bathroom a lot

These symptoms can be better or worse at different times and are often worse when you’re stressed.

GAD may come on gradually, with many people reporting feeling at least mild anxiety symptoms for their entire lives. An anxiety disorder can begin at any time — in childhood, adolescence, or even late adulthood.

GAD is reportedly more common in women than in men and often occurs in relatives of people with anxiety disorders, meaning there may be a genetic component.

GAD is diagnosed when someone spends more days than not over at least 6 months worried excessively about a number of everyday problems, including health, money, family, or work.

Sometimes, the source of the worry is hard to pinpoint. Simply the thought of getting through the day may provoke anxiety.

People with GAD can’t seem to shake their concerns or control their worry, even though they usually realize that their anxiety may be more intense than the situation warrants.

Additionally, though some people have panic attacks when they have GAD, anxiety and worry aren’t specifically related to having a panic attack.

They’re also not related to another anxiety disorder. For example, you’re not specifically worried about being embarrassed in public, as in social anxiety, or have an irrational fear about a specific thing, such as in specific phobias.

Unlike other anxiety disorders, people with GAD don’t often feel too restricted in social settings or while working. They don’t usually avoid certain situations as a result of the condition.

However, sometimes the symptoms you experience may be severe enough to affect areas of your life, including your social life, work, and relationships.

If this is the case for you, there’s no reason to feel shame or extra anxiety. There are many treatment options including traditional therapies, home remedies, and lifestyle changes that can help you find relief.

If your daily anxiety symptoms have worsened, or they’re entirely new to you, reach out to a healthcare provider about what you’re experiencing.

They’ll likely ask you about your health history and do an exam to make sure your symptoms aren’t due to unrelated physical conditions. They may then refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatric or psychologist (or both).

Psychotherapy (aka talk therapy) and certain anti-anxiety medications are generally recommended as the first-line treatments for GAD.

You may also want to try other complementary and alternative treatments, either combined with traditional therapies, or if traditional therapies aren’t accessible to you.

These include:

Everyone’s coping techniques will vary slightly, so find out what works for you.

If your situation doesn’t allow you to speak with a healthcare provider, talking with someone you trust can help.

You can also look for support groups in your area, such as through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or speak to a pastoral counselor if you’re a member of a religious community.

If your GAD worsens or you develop thoughts of hurting yourself or suicide, support is available:

Further resources

To learn more about your treatment options for GAD, as well as possible home remedies and lifestyle changes, check out this article.

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