Generalized anxiety disorder- symptoms, causes, risk factors and treatments

Emeh Joy
By Emeh Joy

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common type of mental disorder typically characterised by excessive constant worry over different things. Learn everything about GAD, its causes, symptoms, risk factors, prevention, and treatment.

Generalized anxiety disorder- symptoms, caused, risk factors and treatments

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common type of mental disorder typically characterised by excessive constant worry over different things. Learn everything about generalized anxiety disorder, its causes, symptoms, risk factors, prevention, and treatment.

According to a population study, not less than 33.7 per cent of the population are affected by an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias as well as social anxiety disorder.

Like most other types of mental health disorders, people with generalized anxiety disorder usually do not control their feelings. This condition comes with chronic anxiety and worries over common situations and occurrences.

It is normal to get worried at some point over certain issue of life. However, in the case of GAD, the feeling of anxiousness is not normal. For instance, someone with a generalized anxiety disorder might worry excessively over financial issues many times a day for up to two months, even when there is no need to worry.

Generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most common mental disorders associated with societal and personal costs yet it is the least successfully treated of the anxiety disorders.

The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder are similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. However, the conditions differ. The excessive anxiety and unrealistic worry that is associated with GAD can interfere with people's relationships as well as their daily activities.

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder

Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder GAD include:

  • Constant excessive worry
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Muscle tension
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sweaty palms
  • Shaking

Difference between GAD and other common mental conditions

Many mental issues like phobias and depression also present with anxiety. However, generalized anxiety disorder differs from these conditions in different ways.

People with phobia usually worry and exhibit fear about one particular thing, and people with depression may feel anxious sometimes.

But, in the case of GAD, people with its condition worry about different things over a long period. In some cases, they can't even pinpoint the source of their worry.

Causes of generalized anxiety disorder

Causes of generalised anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder is likely caused by a combination of environmental and biological factors such as:

  • Genetics
  • Differences in brain chemistry and function
  • Differences in the way threats are perceived
  • Personality and development

According to an article published on StatPearls, other causes of generalized anxiety disorder include stress, substance abuse, environmental factors like child abuse and health conditions like diabetes.

Risk factors of GAD

Studies have shown that women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and anxiety-related disorders than males. Other factors that might increase the risk of developing GAD include:

  • Genetics: Genetics might increase the risk of developing generalized anxiety disorder as it may run in families.
  • Personality: People who avoid taking risks or have a negative mindset are more likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder than others.
  • Past experiences: People with a history of childhood trauma or who had negative experiences in the past might be prone to developing GAD. Other mental health disorders or chronic medical illnesses may also increase the risk of this condition.

Complications of generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized anxiety disorder can be disabling and can cause impairments. Some complications of GAD include:

  • It can increase the risk of depression
  • It can drain your energy
  • It can cause an inability to concentrate and perform tasks effectively and efficiently
  • It can cause sleep problems and insomnia
  • It can cause headaches and migraines
  • It can lead to or worsen other health conditions such as heart problems and digestive or bowel problems
  • It can also occur with other mental health disorders such as panic disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

How to prevent developing GAD

How to prevent generalised anxiety disorder

There is no way to tell for sure what could trigger generalized anxiety disorder. However, certain things can be done to reduce its symptoms, which is basically anxiety and worries.

Here are things you can do:

  • Have a priority list: Prioritizing issues in your life can help you worry less over certain issues. Managing your time and energy is one of the few ways to reduce anxiety.
  • Keep a daily journal: Keeping a journal can help you track your personal life so as to know the anxiety triggers or stressors you need to avoid.
  • Avoid substance use: Using certain substances like nicotine or even caffeine can lead to anxiety or worsen an already existing anxiety condition. If you are already on these substances, it will help to quit with the help of a mental health therapist.
  • Get help early: Like many other mental health conditions, it is easier to treat anxiety during the early stages. So if you find yourself constantly worried and anxious about unnecessary things, you might want to seek help fast. You can check out this mental health guide for a list of mental health support organisations you can reach out to.

Generalized anxiety disorder treatment

Doctors and mental health professionals use different techniques to diagnose and treat generalised anxiety disorder. For instance, blood tests can be conducted, and physical examinations can be conducted to diagnose this condition.

Treatment options for generalised anxiety disorder include:

1. The use of medications

One of the common ways of treating generalised anxiety disorder is by using medications. Some medications that can be recommended include antidepressants, benzodiazepines and buspirone. These anti-anxiety medications can help treat GAD on a short- or long-term basis.

Note:

While using drugs like antidepressants, buspirone and benzodiazepines are effective for treating GAD, they often have clinically significant adverse effects.

Remember not to self-medicate. A mental health doctor is in a better position to prescribe the right medication for you.

2. Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is the use of psychological counselling to treat people suffering from mental health issues. Here, you work with a therapist to find the best ways to reduce your anxiety.

One of the most effective forms of psychotherapy for generalized anxiety disorder is cognitive behavioural therapy. This focuses on teaching you how to manage your worries and gradually go back to doing those things that trigger your anxiety.

3. Lifestyle and home remedies

Home remedies for treating generalised anxiety disorder

Asides from the use of medications and psychotherapist, lifestyle changes can help get your anxiety under control. Here are some things you can do on your own at home to help your recovery journey:

  • Get enough sleep every day
  • Get physically active
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Use relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation
  • Avoid the use of alcohol, recreational drugs or other substances that might trigger or worsen anxiety

4. Use support and coping mechanisms

Seek support from family members, friends and a support group. With the right support, you find understanding, compassion and also get to share your experiences.

Other things you can do to cope with generalized anxiety disorder include:

  • Let the past concerns go
  • Break the cycle of worries
  • Take responsibility for your mental health by taking the right actions
  • Stick to your treatment plan
  • Socialize more

Resources

Bandelow, Borwin et al. "Epidemiology of Anxiety Disorders in the 21st Century." Dialogues of Clinical Neuroscience, vol 17, 3 (2015): 327-335. Doi: 10.31887/DCNS.2015.17.3/BBandelow, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610617/

Gale, Christopher and Davidson, Oliver. "Generalised Anxiety Disorder." BMJ, vol 334, 7593 (2007): 579-581. Doi: 10.1136/bmj.39133.559282.BE, https://www.med.upenn.edu/cpr/anxiety.html

Munir, Sadaf and Takov, Veronica. "Generalized Anxiety Disorder." StatPearls Publishing, 2 March 2021, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441870/

Newman, Michelle et al. "Worry and Generalized Anxiety Disorder: A Review and Theoretical Synthesis of Evidence on Nature, Etiology, Mechanisms, and Treatment." Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, vol 9 (2013): 275-297. Doi: 10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-050212-185544, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4964851/