Generalized anxiety disorder: Susceptible groups, symptoms, and effective treatment options

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects nearly seven million (or more than 3% of) adults in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder often have difficulties controlling even the most mundane of daily worries. They may worry more than is realistically necessary about actual events or expect the worst outcome when there seems to be no reason for their concern.

Of the seven million Americans affected by this condition, only 43% are receiving treatment for their anxiety symptoms. Like other anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder can cause long-term harm to one’s mental health. With this in mind, understanding symptoms, causes, and treatment options empowers these individuals to better manage their generalized anxiety and find relief.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Like?

People with GAD often are unable to rest because of their persistent worrying, which can affect their performance on the job and at school, and cause difficulties in relationships. Sometimes even everyday tasks can become arduous to accomplish. 

Females are more likely to be diagnosed with the disorder, at twice the rate of men. In addition, generalized anxiety disorder is more common in individuals who are between 45 and 50 years old but one’s susceptibility decreases after the age of 60.

Is GAD a Serious Mental Health Condition?

Suffering with untreated generalized anxiety disorder can be debilitating. However, generalized anxiety disorder treatment helps to minimize the harmful stress and overthinking associated with it.

What Are the 9 Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

You might be wondering, what does generalized anxiety disorder look like in adults? To answer that question, an individual must meet all of the following criteria to be diagnosed with the disorder:

  • Extreme anxiousness and worrying that occurs for at least 6 months and is present for a greater amount of days than not. The worrying is about several things, not a single issue or event.
  • The person is not able to manage their worries.
  • The anxiousness and worrying are related to a minimum of three of the symptoms below (in children and adolescents, only one symptom is necessary): 
    • Feels irritable and unsettled.
    • Tires quickly.
    • Tension in muscles.
    • Sleep is difficult, including waking up, being able to fall asleep, and not feeling refreshed after a night of sleep.
    • The worrying and other symptoms have resulted in extreme anxiety and an inability to be able to perform tasks on the job, at school, and in everyday life.
    • A different type of disorder does not cause their symptoms.

Many GAD symptoms mirror those found in depression, which can sometimes make it difficult for the health care professional to properly diagnose the disorder. When individuals are misdiagnosed, they do not get the treatment they need for GAD. 

What Is an Example of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder presents itself as a persistent, distracting, and disorienting uneasiness that follows the sufferer throughout their daily life. As opposed to other forms of anxiety that are often attributed to specific triggers or linked factors, generalized anxiety disorder symptoms are often recognized due to their impact on a client’s daily life. 

An example of generalized anxiety disorder could include stressing out about one’s financial situation. Though anyone may find their budget a little tight at times, someone with generalized anxiety disorder may start to wonder if they’re going to go homeless, or hungry—even if these circumstances are highly unlikely. They may become so anxious that they can’t sleep, eat, or implement a self-care routine. As a result of their anxiety, their financial situation could become worse, compounding on their existing stress. 

Do I Have GAD, or Do I Just Worry?

Who hasn’t ever been stressed out about money, their health, or their career path? These are common stressors for all of us, and people with generalized anxiety disorder worry about these things as well—but much more deeply. Everyday stressors can transform from molehills to mountains. But sufferers of generalized anxiety disorder also grapple with “what-ifs,” and these imaginary scenarios can become a huge distraction. 

If you focus too intently on unrealistic or hypothetical situations or everyday stress is severe, you might have generalized anxiety disorder. That said, you can’t diagnose yourself: Only a licensed professional can do that. Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider or a mental health professional to talk about your symptoms. It’s a task that only a licensed mental health professional can successfully perform.

Suggestions for Dealing with Anxiety

If you are worrying about something that might happen in the future, step back and try to think about the current moment. Keep your attention on the present instead of concentrating on the “what ifs” and all the worries that plague you.

When you are in the midst of anxiety, your brain may be coming up with all types of things that are not likely to happen. For instance, if you are about to give a presentation at a meeting, you may have thoughts that you won’t be able to do it or that everyone will laugh at you. Ask yourself: 

  • Is the situation you are worried about likely to happen? 
  • What is the worst thing that can happen? 
  • If the worst thing that can happen actually does occur, how will you be able to prepare for it?

Do what you need to do to take your mind off of your anxiety, such as cleaning, meeting friends, and shopping for groceries. Ask yourself what you would do if you were not feeling anxious at that moment. Take the first step to taking care of the “to do” list, and get some of the items done. Studies have shown that staying productive and accomplishing tasks can help the brain to alleviate stress by rewarding us.

What Are Some Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment Options?

People with GAD can find successful treatment with therapy, medicine, or both. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help the individual learn other avenues of thought. They can also learn how to respond to different settings that cause them to worry. An individual with GAD may find that a support group for anxiety is helpful, too. They may find they are able to relate to others in the group who experience the same type of worrying behavior and share ways to cope.


If you are getting treatment for GAD and want to ensure that you are managing your worries and anxieties the best you can, try deep-breathing. Deep breathing is used to lessen anxiety. Inhale and count slowly, then hold your breath for a few seconds, and exhale for several seconds. Repeat the deep breathing exercise until you feel some of the stress dissipating. Envision that you are at a favorite vacation spot, a serene park, or in the garden. You can picture waves in the ocean, the wind blowing through the leaves of trees, or different flowers blooming.

The amount of stress and worry that generalized anxiety disorder stirs up can feel crippling. But with a provider’s care, including the coping strategies and management techniques they can introduce, generalized anxiety disorder can be managed. And you can get back to living a better life. 

Jason Crosby
Written by
Jason Crosby
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Clinically reviewed by
Theresa Welsh
Updated Jul 6, 2017, published Jul 6, 2017, 1 min read.
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Table of contents

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder Like?

Is GAD a Serious Mental Health Condition?

What Are the 9 Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

What Is an Example of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Do I Have GAD, or Do I Just Worry?

Suggestions for Dealing with Anxiety

What Are Some Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment Options?

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  • Author
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Clinically reviewed by Theresa Welsh

Theresa Welsh is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a passion for providing the utmost quality of services to individuals, couples, and families struggling with relationship issues, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, stress, family conflict, life transitions, grief, and more.

Jason Crosby

Written by Jason Crosby

Jason Crosby is a writer at Thriveworks. He received his BA in English Writing from Montana State University with a minor in English Literature. Previously, Jason was a freelance writer for publications based in Seattle, WA, and Austin, TX.

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