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Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - Symptoms, Signs, Causes, and Treatment

Published on Feb 15, 2018 and last reviewed on Mar 02, 2023   -  5 min read


GAD patients worry excessively and persistently throughout the course of the day. They are constantly anticipating the worst about family, health, finance, and the future. Learn about the symptoms, signs, causes, and treatment of GAD.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - Symptoms, Signs, Causes, and Treatment

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental illness where the patient has anxiety not just to particular situations but nearly every activity of the day. They are too obsessed with money, family, work, and relationships.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder ICD-10-CM?

ICD refers to the International Classification of Diseases. 10-CM refers to the Tenth Revision, Clinical Modification. It is a code that can be used to indicate a diagnosis of anxiety disorder and is used for reimbursement purposes.

What Are the Causes?

  • People who received insufficient care in childhood.

  • A family history of mental illness.

  • Current stressful situations.

  • Childhood abuse or traumatic experiences.

  • Personality disorder in an individual.

  • Single child syndrome (being a single child at home).

What Are the Symptoms?

  • Excessive worrying sometimes accompanied by depression.

  • Trouble falling asleep.

  • Avoidance in social gatherings.

  • Muscle tension.

  • Constant negative thoughts.

  • Inability to relax or enjoy me-time.

  • Difficulty in focusing on the task at hand.

  • Easily startled.

  • Very low self-esteem, but have a positive view on peers.

  • Fear of abandonment in personal relationships.

  • Very sensitive to criticism.

  • Afraid of intimacy and commitments.

  • Expect constant reassurance and affection from their partner.

  • Behaves in an irrational and emotional way.

  • Trouble in developing trust.

  • Succumb to dysfunctional relationships.

  • Unhealthy coping with alcohol and drugs.

What Are the Physical Signs?

How Do You Diagnose?

Generalized anxiety disorder requires psychometric tests to identify the severity of anxiousness.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) is a professional test carried by a psychologist to assess the nature of mental health illness.

What Is the Treatment for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

  • Anti-anxiety drugs Alprazolam, Clonazepam, and Diazepam help to recover from an anxiety episode.

  • Meditative practices help us to slow down the wavelength of thoughts so that we can skilfully choose our thoughts and gain more self-awareness.

  • Mindfulness practice will help us gain insight into the present experience without any judgments.

  • Psychotherapy.

What Is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented short term psychotherapy. It helps to cope up with severe distress. It promotes good emotional regulation. It focuses on current thinking and behavior rather than focusing on the past. Self-help CBT is helpful in patients with mild or moderate anxiety. Non-judgmental attitude will be aimed to be cultivated in the patients so that they tend to develop a positive opinion about everyone. This will make their interpersonal relationship more stable.

The components of cognitive-behavioral therapy are:

  • Restructuring the cognitive thought process.

  • Modification of core beliefs.

  • Training social skills.

  • Shifting attention from distress situations.

  • Learning to tolerate doubt and uncertainty.

Acceptance and commitment therapy:

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) helps to reduce the impact of anxious thoughts and panic attacks.

Mindfulness Technique:

Mindfulness practice will help us gain insight into the present experience without any judgments.


Meditative practices help us to slow down the wavelength of thoughts so that we can skilfully choose our thoughts and gain more self-awareness. It should be done on a daily basis. Observing one’s own breath is the height of meditation. Few pieces of music help in attaining meditative state.

Gratitude writing:

Writing gratitude is a powerful psychological practice. It enables a person to write ten or fifteen gratitude statements every day. This practice becomes more powerful when it is practiced twice a day. The gratitude statements can be made for health, relationships, money, job, car, business, etc. In this way, a positive approach can be gained in everyday life. It helps us to focus more on the grateful things in life sweeping away the negative thoughts. It helps to declutter all the distress producing thoughts and feelings. Clarity of thoughts will be attained and the person will turn more goal-oriented. It will improve one’s self-esteem. It might take only fifteen minutes a day.

A combination of both psychotherapy and medications are required in severe and long-standing cases.


  • Stress management techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing help to a great extent.

  • Healthy parenting is always going to be the best. It is recommended for young parents to go for a parental counseling session. In this way, both the father and mother can contribute to the growth and development of the child.

  • Being a single kid without siblings will push a child to loneliness. Parents should encourage the child to visit his/her cousins. They might even consider having another kid.

  • Including a mindfulness technique in your everyday routine makes a huge difference in how you perceive the situations.

  • Get adequate sleep.

  • Avoid alcohol and drug abuse. Their effects are temporary and will worsen situations when the effect wears off. Get treated early. Earlier you seek help, the better the chances of recovery.

  • It is recommended to consult a mental health professional if: Your worrying goes out of control and hampers daily life, work, and relationships. You have irrational fears and always expect the worst. Your anxiety starts affecting your physical health. You consider or have started resorting to alcohol and drugs to calm yourself down.

Frequently Asked Questions


Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder a Serious Condition?

Generalized anxiety disorder is often considered a serious condition. It is a chronic illness causing patients to suffer for many years, causing significant distress in daily functioning. It also leads to the inability to perform tasks quickly and effectively, as the patient will have trouble concentrating.


How Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Caused?

The cause of generalized anxiety disorder arises from the complex interaction of biological and environmental factors such as -
- Genetics (it runs in the family).
- The difference in the chemistry and functioning of the brain.
- Developmental and personality changes.
- The difference in the dealing of threats as perceived.


Is There a Cure for Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

A generalized anxiety disorder can also be treated like any other anxiety disorder. It usually goes away once the threat is removed and the system calms down. In chronic cases, other treatment modalities can also be used, such as psychotherapy, making lifestyle changes, and medications may also be necessary.


What Are the Treatments for Anxiety?

The treatment for anxiety disorders includes the following -
- Psychotherapy - Also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling. In this therapy, a therapist helps in reducing anxiety symptoms.
- Medications - Medicines such as anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs can be prescribed.


What Chemical Changes Are Seen in Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Change in the brain chemicals is one cause of generalized anxiety disorder. In patients with generalized anxiety disorder, an imbalance in chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are often seen. Severe or long-lasting anxiety is the leading cause of change in the chemical balance that controls the mood.


What Are the Signs of Severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder includes excessive worrying about normal issues and situations. In severe cases, the same symptoms can be exaggerated, which include -
- Restlessness. 
- Fatigue. 
- Trouble concentrating. 
- Irritability.
- Increased muscle tension.
- Trouble sleeping.


For How Long Does GAD Last?

The patient can experience anxiety symptoms in generalized anxiety disorder for many months. Without any proper treatment, it can turn into a lifelong problem. Moreover, the symptoms also get aggressive and hard to control.


Who Is More Prone to Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is a common disorder among children and adolescents. It generally begins in childhood, and the symptoms get worsen with age. It is commonly seen in women, blacks, young adults, and people with low income or occupational status.


What Are the Effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder on the Brain?

Generalized anxiety disorder causes a weaker connection between brain structures. The most affected part is the amygdala which controls the emotional response of the body. It also processes memory and fear.


Can Generalized Anxiety Disorder Goes Away on Its Own?

The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder do not go away on their own. However, it can worsen with time. Therefore the patient should seek medical advice whenever they start experiencing the symptom to prevent the condition from worsening.


What Is the Advantage of Cognitive Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety disorders. It focuses on teaching specific skills to help improve the symptoms and slowly make the condition of the patient better. It also involves exposure therapy, where the patient encounters the object or situation that triggers the anxiety to develop confidence in handling the condition.


What Are the Goals of Cognitive Theory?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is very beneficial in treating patients with anxiety disorders. It includes three goals which are identification, recognition, and management. These goals help the patient to understand how their thoughts impact their actions and handle their condition.


When Is Cognitive Therapy Not Advised?

Cognitive therapy is not suitable for complex anxiety cases. People with learning difficulties or complex mental needs are unsuitable for this therapy. As it involves confronting emotions and anxieties, these patients may feel uncomfortable or anxious during the treatment.


What Is Self-Directed Cognitive Therapy?

Self-directed cognitive therapy is that which a person can do on their own without the help of therapists. And this is considered a very effective way of treating anxiety which involves some of the following steps -
- Scheduling activities that bring enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment.
- Making the judicial use of time.
- Facing anxiety-triggering situations to gain confidence against them.
- Recognizing the influence of their actions on their thoughts and emotions.

Last reviewed at:
02 Mar 2023  -  5 min read




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