Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic condition that can affect our mental and physical well-being. Understanding the major symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can help us better identify them, seek help and overcome the condition.
Generalized anxiety disorder typically involves persistent worry that impairs the ability of a person to function properly in their daily life.
Certain symptoms of GAD may overlap with those of other anxiety disorders 1 Rickels, K., & Rynn, M. (2001). Overview and clinical presentation of generalized anxiety disorder. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 24(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0193-953x(05)70203-3 such as panic disorders and social phobia, the difference being that GAD is more broadly based and usually does not have particular triggers, hence being known as ‘generalized’. Contrary to popular belief, panic attacks and sudden fear are not signs of GAD.
Read More About Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Here
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder for you to look out for:
Psychological Symptoms Of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The common psychological symptoms 2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, June). Table 3.15, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Comparison. Nih.gov; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t15/ of GAD include:
1. Constant excessive worry about everyday things
One of the main characteristics of people with generalized anxiety is their tendency to imagine all the things that could go wrong in a situation, and assume the worst. They perceive almost every situation as a threat.
2. Restlessness or feeling on edge
People with GAD are always alert, vigilant and tense. They can seldom relax and let things take their course.
3. Difficulty concentrating
Due to being constantly preoccupied with worry, people with GAD often have trouble focusing on a particular task. They may sometimes experience their mind “going blank”.
People with generalized anxiety tend to get irritable and angry as they are unable to rid themselves of negative thoughts. This can often manifest in outwardly rude behavior.
5. Being easily fatigued
Suffering from generalized anxiety can be tiring and make a person feel fatigued all the time, for no reason.
Some other ways in which the symptoms of GAD can manifest are:
- Feelings of doom
- Intrusive thoughts
- Being easily startled
- Avoiding stressful situations, etc.
Physical Symptoms Of Generalized Anxiety Disorder
The physical symptoms of GAD can manifest in the following common ways:
1. Muscle tension
Tense muscles is one of the main physiological symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, occurring as a result of being on constant alert.
2. Difficulty falling and staying asleep
People with generalized anxiety usually have unsatisfying or unfulfilling sleep, and may take a long time to fall asleep after going to bed.
3. Unexplained aches and pains
GAD can also manifest in somatic pains that have no medical cause. For example, random stomachaches, headaches, muscle pains, etc.
4. Changes in appetite
People with generalized anxiety disorder, may either lose their appetite or eat more frequently due to stress. This can also result in weight loss or gain.
5. Other physical difficulties
Other physiological signs of GAD include:
- Hot flashes or chills
- Shaking and trembling
- Excessive sweating
- Difficulty swallowing or dry mouth
- Tingling sensations in the body
- Shortness of breath
The intensity of the symptoms can vary depending on the individual’s history, circumstances, and other comorbid conditions. Moreover, symptoms can worsen in case of life situations such as conflicts in relationships, financial problems, work pressure, examinations or a physical illness.
Symptoms Of GAD In Children
GAD can occur in children 3 Keeton, C. P., Kolos, A. C., & Walkup, J. T. (2009). Pediatric generalized anxiety disorder: epidemiology, diagnosis, and management. Paediatric drugs, 11(3), 171–183. https://doi.org/10.2165/00148581-200911030-00003 , and is also called “pediatric generalized anxiety disorder”. However, GAD was not always recognized as a diagnosis for children. In fact, DSM III had a separate diagnosis known as Overanxious Disorder (OAD) for children which was later incorporated within GAD.
Children and teens suffering from GAD tend to worry excessively about normal daily situations such as:
- Family problems or safety of parents
- Social relationships & interactions
- Household responsibilities & chores
- Academic or sports performance
- Punctuality or being late
- Natural disasters like storms, earthquakes or other catastrophic events, etc.
Children or teenagers may experience the following generalized anxiety disorder symptoms:
- Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches and other sickness
- Lacking confidence
- Seeking approval and validation constantly
- Trying to avoid social situations, like going to school
- Investing a lot of time and effort in completing homework
- Requiring constant reassurance about skills & performance
GAD in children can also co-occur with other disorders such as social phobia and separation anxiety disorder. A study 4 Davies, S. J., Pearson, R. M., Stapinski, L., Bould, H., Christmas, D. M., Button, K. S., Skapinakis, P., Lewis, G., & Evans, J. (2016). Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder but not panic disorder at age 15 years increase the risk of depression at 18 years in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort study. Psychological medicine, 46(1), 73–85. https://doi.org/10.1017/S003329171500149X found that GAD symptoms at age 15 years can increase the likelihood of experiencing depression at age 18 years.
Consult A Doctor
All of us may feel stressed from time to time. However, if the anxiety interferes with our daily life and affects our wellbeing, it is best to consult a professional. Seeking help is especially important if you are experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts along with the above-mentioned symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
Getting diagnosed can help you get treatment from a licensed mental health professional and overcome this debilitating condition to live a healthier, happier life.
- Read About Causes Of Generalized Anxiety Disorder Here
- Read About Treatment Of Generalized Anxiety Disorder Here
At A Glance
- Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic disorder, that usually does not have any specific triggers.
- It can affect both adults and children.
- Some psychological symptoms of GAD include constant worry, irritability, restlessness,etc.
- GAD can also manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, changes in appetite, etc.
- Understanding what are the symptoms of GAD can help a person identify them better and seek help.
- 1Rickels, K., & Rynn, M. (2001). Overview and clinical presentation of generalized anxiety disorder. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 24(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0193-953x(05)70203-3
- 2Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, June). Table 3.15, DSM-IV to DSM-5 Generalized Anxiety Disorder Comparison. Nih.gov; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519704/table/ch3.t15/
- 3Keeton, C. P., Kolos, A. C., & Walkup, J. T. (2009). Pediatric generalized anxiety disorder: epidemiology, diagnosis, and management. Paediatric drugs, 11(3), 171–183. https://doi.org/10.2165/00148581-200911030-00003
- 4Davies, S. J., Pearson, R. M., Stapinski, L., Bould, H., Christmas, D. M., Button, K. S., Skapinakis, P., Lewis, G., & Evans, J. (2016). Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder but not panic disorder at age 15 years increase the risk of depression at 18 years in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort study. Psychological medicine, 46(1), 73–85. https://doi.org/10.1017/S003329171500149X