Generalized Anxiety Disorder


What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry. If you worry a lot about a variety of things and can’t seem to stop, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder. GAD affects about 3 out of 100 people in the U.S. in any given yearMost people worry occasionally, but people with GAD worry excessively for at least six months or more. Common worries include health, money, jobs or family matters.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Causes

GAD may be caused by a variety of factors. Evidence suggests that the following play a role in causing GAD:

  • Genetic factors
  • Family upbringing
  • Excessive use of stimulants such as caffeine and tobacco
  • Life experiences, particularly stressful ones

GAD Risk Factors

GAD often occurs in conjunction with other mental health conditions such as depression and phobias. Women are twice as likely to be affected. Although this type of anxiety disorder can begin at any age and may develop gradually, the risk is highest between childhood and middle age.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of GAD are often experienced when feeling stressed with a combination of emotional, behavioral and physical symptoms. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Tension, nervousness
  • Hot flashes
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tingling
  • Rapid breathing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Digestive problems
  • Exhaustion

While panic attacks are not a sign of GAD, it’s important to not dismiss the negative effects of a constant worry. Talk to your doctor if the following statements are true:

  1. I have found it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least 6 months.
  2. I have 3 or more related symptoms listed above.

Don’t dismiss the harmful effects of constant worry. Discuss your symptoms with a Mercy behavioral health provider who will develop a treatment plan to help you along the path to healing.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment

Anxiety doesn’t just affect your state of mind – you’ll notice physical symptoms. The body responds to anxiety by releasing cortisol and other stress hormones, which can cause nervousness, dizziness, sweating, heart palpitations, trouble concentrating, rashes and more. Beyond the physical effects of GAD, it can be lonely and isolating. GAD can be treated with medication, therapy and alternative therapies – or a combination of these treatment methods.

A therapist works with you in counseling sessions to discuss ways to manage your anxiety. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches you skills to manage anxiety and is especially effective for GAD. CBT can be done individually or in a group of people with similar issues.

Anxiety can be treated with or without medication. Your Mercy doctor or behavioral health professional will discuss your options, including the benefits and risks. Medications often used to treat GAD include:


  • Antidepressants – These medications increase levels of the chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine in your brain, which helps improve your mood.
  • Buspirone – This anti-anxiety medication alters the chemical messages your nerves receive, which can reduce irritability, low energy and other symptoms. It can take several weeks before you start to feel better on buspirone.
  • Benzodiazepines – These medications slow down the nervous system, helping you feel less anxious and get more sleep. But they also make you feel drowsy, may require higher doses over time, and can be addictive.

Some people with GAD also benefit from healing therapies used alongside traditional medical care, known as complementary or integrative therapies. Mercy's integrative medicine department focuses on your emotional and spiritual well-being through a variety of therapies. Meditation is especially effective for GAD by helping you clear your mind, calm yourself and feel more at peace.

Pediatric Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment

GAD in children and adolescents is treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication or a combination of both. Antidepressants that increase serotonin levels are commonly used to treat GAD in children. If you’re concerned about your child’s anxiety, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a Mercy behavioral health professional. Working with a care team, you can help your child enjoy a healthier and more active life.

Living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

While not a substitute for medical care, other ways to help you cope include relaxation techniques, changing negative thoughts and making positive changes to reduce stress. It’s also important to be socially engaged and take time for healthy self-care. Since drugs and alcohol can contribute to or worsen anxiety, avoiding them will help you enjoy a better quality of life.

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