Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People who have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) worry too much about a lot of things.  Everyone worries at times, but people with GAD worry most of the time.  Furthermore, everyone worries about making the big decisions in life, but people with GAD also worry about the little things.  They tend to expect the worst.  People with GAD may worry a lot about health, family, work, or money or simply what to cook for dinner, being late for appointments, or what to wear.  People even worry that they don’t seem to be able to stop worrying.  The worry is so severe that it is distressing and may also interfere with daily living.

GAD usually starts in childhood or adolescence. Sometimes it starts in early adulthood.

How do I know if I have GAD?

People with GAD have mental and physical symptoms of anxiety.  Symptoms often build up little by little.

Mental symptoms include:

  • Excessive and persistent worries about several things
  • Having trouble controlling the worries
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, feeling the mind go “blank”

Physical symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge
  • Difficulty sleeping

People with GAD often have additional anxiety disorders or depression.  Often they set very high standards for themselves.

How is GAD diagnosed?

There is no blood test for GAD.  The doctor or trained mental health professional makes the diagnosis by asking about your symptoms, personal history, and health history.  You will be asked about any medicines you are taking. Some can cause side effects that are like the symptoms of GAD.  You also will be asked if you are using nicotine, caffeine, street drugs, prescribed medicines, or alcohol.

To be diagnosed with GAD, your worries must be:

  • Present during most days
  • Present for at least 6 months
  • Interfere with your life (causing you to miss work or school, for example)
  • Be upsetting to you

What causes GAD?

The exact cause of GAD is not known.  In most people, it probably results from some combination of inherited factors, personality traits, previous life experiences, general health, and the environment.  Your risk of getting GAD is higher if you have a family member with anxiety or depression.

Treatment Options

Effective treatments include counseling (called “psychotherapy”), medicine, or both.  Both medicine and psychotherapy can reduce symptoms of GAD.  Specific treatments may include the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: A therapist will work with you to change your patterns of thinking.  This will help you see how you react to situations that cause you anxiety.  You will then learn skills that will help change patterns of thinking that cause anxiety.
  • Behavioral therapy: A therapist will help you face what you fear by gradually helping you deal with things that you have been avoiding.  Your therapist also may teach you relaxation techniques to learn to calm your body.  Learning ways to relax can help you gain more control over anxiety.  Instead of reacting with worry and tension, you can learn to stay calm.
  • Medicine: Medicine can be prescribed for severe symptoms that make daily functioning difficult.  Medicines can help ease symptoms so you can focus on getting better.

There are no guides for preventing GAD.  Early diagnosis and treatment can help symptoms from becoming severe.

Evaluations, treatment, and other services are offered through the UPMC Behavioral Health Network.  To find out more or to make an appointment, call toll-free, 1-877-624-4100.


For more information on general anxiety disorder, visit these web sites:

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