Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Man talking to therapist.

Anxiety can fill you with worry and fear. Sometimes anxiety is healthy. It alerts you to a potential threat and gets you to respond and take action. But for some people, anxiety gets so bad it causes problems in daily life. If you find yourself in a constant state of anxiety, you may have an anxiety disorder called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Speak with your healthcare provider or mental health professional to learn more. He or she can help. 

What is generalized anxiety disorder?

GAD means that you are worrying constantly and can’t control the worrying. Healthcare providers diagnose GAD when your worrying happens on most days and for at least 6 months.

With GAD, you might worry about money, your family and friends, work, or the world in general. You might not even be sure what you're anxious about. But whatever it is, you have an intense fear that the worst will happen. These feelings never really go away. In people age 65 and older, GAD is one of the most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders.  Many times it occurs with depression. This constant worry affects your quality of life and makes it hard to function. GAD can cause physical symptoms, too.

What are common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder?

People with GAD often think they have a physical illness. The disorder can cause symptoms, such as:

  • Excessive worry that interferes with daily activities and lasts for at least 6 months

  • Muscle tension, especially in the neck and shoulders

  • Nausea and stomach problems

  • Frequent headaches

  • Feeling lightheaded

  • Restlessness, trouble sleeping

  • Feeling irritable and on edge all the time

How can generalized anxiety disorder be treated?

GAD can be treated with medicine or therapy (also called counseling), or both. Medicine helps to reduce symptoms, so you can continue with your daily routine. Therapy helps you understand the cause of your anxiety and learn how to manage it. Both forms of treatment help you deal with problems that anxiety causes in your life. This helps you to be healthier and happier.