What is generalized anxiety disorder? Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a condition in which a person experiences persistent worry and anxiety - even when there is little or no cause to worry. In GAD, worry can be difficult to control. Often, one worry will set in motion a "chain of worries." For example, a person who has a disagreement with their spouse might worry that their spouse will leave them. This will further trigger additional worries that they will have to move out, that they will have nowhere to go, that they will have financial difficulties, that they may never find another partner, that they will never have children, that they will become depressed, that they will end up alone...

From this example, it is apparent that worry in the context of GAD is rarely limited in scope, and one worry that may initially appear minor may take on huge proportions. Worrisome thought patterns may take over and lead a person to avoid situations that could possibly cause or worsen anxiety. Though it can feel overwhelming, GAD is a treatable, manageable condition.

What are the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder? A person with GAD will experience nearly non-stop, free-floating worry and stress. They will often describe themselves, or be described by others, as a "worrier." In addition, worry will typically be experienced across many areas of life, as opposed to being confined to a single domain.

Nearly anything can be a point of worry - from health, finances, or relationships to day-to-day tasks and interactions. Aside from the persistent worry, common symptoms of GAD include sleep problems, restlessness, irritability, and fatigue, as well as difficulty concentrating. A number of physical symptoms may happen, too, like muscle aches and tension headaches. GAD may be diagnosed if these symptoms also cause significant distress or interference in a person's life.

What are the causes and risk factors of generalized anxiety disorder? GAD can start at any time in a person's life - out of nowhere or after a traumatic or stressful event. Your genes may affect your risk of developing an anxiety disorder, as can the coping behaviours that you may have learned from others (parents, peers, etc.). Men experience anxiety, but GAD tends to occur more often in women.

How is generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed? If you suspect that you might have a problem with anxiety, speak to your doctor and share the symptoms you've experienced. Since anxiety can accompany other conditions and illnesses, your doctor will likely perform a thorough examination to rule out other possible anxiety causes. GAD is diagnosed if a person has been worrying excessively and broadly for at least 6 months.

How can generalized anxiety disorder be treated? Better day-to-day functioning with GAD is possible through individualized treatment. Your treatment plan may include cognitive-behavioural therapy, medications, support groups, or a combination of all of the above. And while healthy lifestyle habits and social support may not cure generalized anxiety disorder, they can help you to manage your symptoms. Learn more about your anxiety treatment options.