What is generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder occurs when you feel worried and stressed about many everyday events and activities. Often the things you are worried about are small or not important. This type of worry disrupts your life most days. Everyone gets worried or anxious at times. But people with generalized anxiety disorder have more than normal everyday worries.
Many people who have generalized anxiety disorder have physical symptoms. These can include having headaches or being tired all the time.
Anyone can get generalized anxiety disorder at any age. But it usually starts when you are a child or teen. Most people with this disorder have felt nervous or anxious as long as they can remember. Women are twice as likely as men to have the problem.
What causes it?
The cause of generalized anxiety disorder is not known. Some studies show that it might be passed through the family (genetic).
Some problems such as hyperthyroidism can cause generalized anxiety symptoms.
Some medicines can cause worry and stress or make your stress worse, such as medicines with amphetamines (Ritalin) or too much caffeine. Illegal drugs such as cocaine can also cause these symptoms. Be sure to talk with your doctor about any medicines you are taking.
What are the symptoms?
Generalized anxiety disorder can make you feel worried and stressed about many things almost every day. You may have a hard time controlling your worry.
- Feeling tired or cranky. You may have a hard time concentrating.
- Having headaches or muscle aches.
- Feeling shaky, sweating, or having hot flashes.
- Feeling lightheaded, sick to your stomach, or out of breath.
- Feeling like you can't relax. Or being startled easily.
- Having problems falling or staying asleep.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask about your health and how often you worry or feel anxious. People with generalized anxiety disorder have more worry and stress than normal. They feel worried and stressed about many things almost every day. And these feelings have lasted for at least 6 months.
Your doctor also may ask about other symptoms, like whether you:
- Feel restless.
- Feel tired.
- Have a hard time thinking or feel that your mind goes blank.
- Feel cranky.
- Have tense muscles.
- Have sleep problems.
A physical exam and tests can help make sure that your symptoms aren't caused by a different condition, such as a thyroid problem.
How is generalized anxiety disorder treated?
Counseling and medicine can both work to treat anxiety. The two are often used along with lifestyle changes.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of counseling that's used to help treat anxiety. In CBT, you learn how to notice and replace thoughts that make you feel worried. It also can help you learn how to relax when you worry.
Applied relaxation therapy may also be used. Your counselor might ask you to imagine a calming situation. This can help you relax.
Medicines can help. These medicines are often also used for depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often tried first. But there are other medicines that your doctor may use. You may need to try a few medicines to find one that works well.
Many people feel better by getting regular exercise, eating healthy meals, and getting good sleep. Mindfulness—focusing on things in the present moment—also can help reduce your anxiety.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health