Overview

Experiencing occasional anxiety is normal, especially in stressful situations. However, if you find yourself constantly overwhelmed by excessive worry and anxiety that disrupts your daily life, you might be dealing with generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder can affect individuals of all ages, whether children or adults. While some symptoms may overlap with other anxiety-related conditions like panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder is a distinct mental health condition.

Living with generalized anxiety disorder can present long-term challenges, and it’s not uncommon for it to co-occur with other anxiety or mood disorders. The good news is that it is treatable, and many individuals find relief through psychotherapy, medication, and adopting coping techniques and relaxation methods.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can vary and may include:

  • Feeling persistently worried or anxious about multiple aspects of life, even if their impact is disproportionate
  • Engaging in excessive overthinking and ruminating on worst-case scenarios
  • Perceiving situations as threatening, even when they are not objectively dangerous
  • Difficulty coping with uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and a fear of making the wrong choices
  • Being unable to let go of worries
  • Feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge
  • Trouble concentrating or experiencing mental blankness

Physical signs and symptoms may include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or aches
  • Trembling or feeling twitchy
  • Easy startle response or nervousness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Stomach issues like nausea, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability

At times, the worries may not entirely consume an individual, but they might still experience anxiety without a clear reason. For instance, they might constantly worry about their safety or that of their loved ones or have a pervasive sense that something terrible is about to happen.

Generalized anxiety disorder can significantly distress individuals, impacting their social life, work, and overall well-being. The nature of worries may change over time and vary with age.

Symptoms in Children and Teenagers

Children and teenagers with generalized anxiety disorder may exhibit similar worries to adults, but they may also excessively worry about:

  • Academic performance or sporting events
  • Family members’ safety
  • Punctuality
  • Natural disasters or catastrophic events

A child or teen struggling with excessive worry might:

  • Feel overly anxious to fit in
  • Display perfectionist tendencies
  • Redo tasks repeatedly due to a fear of imperfection
  • Invest excessive time in homework
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Seek constant approval
  • Require reassurance about their performance
  • Complain of frequent physical symptoms like stomachaches
  • Avoid school or social situations

When to Seek Medical Attention

While some level of anxiety is typical, it’s essential to consult a doctor if:

  • You find yourself excessively worrying, and it interferes with your work, relationships, or daily life
  • You experience depression or irritability, substance abuse issues, or other mental health concerns alongside anxiety
  • You have suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harming behaviors – in such cases, seek emergency treatment immediately

Ignoring the symptoms won’t make them disappear and may exacerbate the condition over time. Seeking professional help early on can lead to more effective treatment and improved outcomes.

Possible Causes of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

As with many mental health conditions, generalized anxiety disorder likely arises from a combination of biological and environmental factors, including:

  • Differences in brain chemistry and function
  • Genetics
  • Perception of threats in a different manner
  • Developmental and personality factors

Risk Factors

While generalized anxiety disorder can affect anyone, certain factors may increase the likelihood of developing the condition:

  • Personality traits: Individuals with a timid, negative temperament or those who avoid risks may be more prone to developing generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Genetics: Family history of generalized anxiety disorder may elevate the risk of developing the condition.
  • Life experiences: Significant life changes, traumatic experiences during childhood, recent negative events, chronic medical illnesses, or other mental health disorders may increase the risk of generalized anxiety disorder.

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Diagnosis

To help diagnose generalized anxiety disorder, your doctor or mental health professional may:

  • Conduct a physical exam to rule out other potential causes of anxiety, such as medications or underlying medical conditions
  • Order blood or urine tests or other diagnostic tests if there are suspicions of a medical condition
  • Ask detailed questions about your symptoms and medical history
  • Use psychological questionnaires to assist in determining a diagnosis
  • Refer to the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) by the American Psychiatric Association

Treatment

Treatment options are based on the extent to which generalized anxiety disorder affects your daily functioning. The two primary treatments for generalized anxiety disorder are psychotherapy and medications, and a combination of both may work best for you. Finding the most effective treatment may involve some trial and error.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling, involves working with a therapist to address and alleviate anxiety symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is particularly effective for generalized anxiety disorder. This short-term therapy focuses on teaching specific skills to manage worries and gradually return to avoided activities, leading to symptom improvement and overall progress.

Medications

Various medications can be used to treat generalized anxiety disorder, including:

  • Antidepressants like escitalopram (Lexapro), duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor XR), and paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), which are the primary medication treatments
  • Buspirone, an anti-anxiety medication used on an ongoing basis, though it takes time to become fully effective
  • Benzodiazepines, prescribed in limited circumstances for short-term relief due to their habit-forming nature

Talk to your doctor about the potential benefits, risks, and side effects of these medications.

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