What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
If you find yourself worrying too much in your everyday life, you may want to see a doctor. You may have a condition called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is characterized by excessive worry and anxiety that are difficult to control and that cause significant distress and impairment.

Doctors diagnose GAD by assessing if you’ve had three (or more) of the following symptoms for the past six months:
  • Restlessness (or feeling keyed up or on edge)
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating (or feeling your mind going blank without warning)
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
GAD is concerning because it can lead to other psychiatric problems like panic disorder, major depression, or alcohol abuse. If you are concerned that your worries and anxiety may be reaching this dangerous level, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider or a local psychiatrist to discuss possible therapies. These could include anxiety-reducing medication, talk therapy, or home remedies, like special relaxing herbal teas.
This content originally appeared on
Sheri Van Dijk
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a chronic, persistent state of worry about specific stressful life circumstances, such as finances, relationships, health, family members, or work or school performance. If you have GAD, you spend a lot of your time worrying about these things, and you experience a lack of control over your worrying. In other words, you can't stop yourself from getting caught up in these thoughts.

To be diagnosed with GAD, the anxiety must have been ongoing for at least six months, and you must experience a minimum of three of the following symptoms: restlessness, problems with sleep, being easily fatigued, muscle tension, irritability, and problems with concentration. Many people can fit into this category at times, so it's important to remember what distinguishes functional from dysfunctional anxiety: if you have GAD, the anxiety triggered by your worries is more intense than is warranted by the situation, it may interfere with your ability to function, and the anxiety doesn't dissipate when the stressful situation is over.
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder: Using DBT to Regain Control of Your Emotions and Your Life (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

More About this Book

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder: Using DBT to Regain Control of Your Emotions and Your Life (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

Even if you've just been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it's likely that you've been living with it for a long time. You've probably already developed your own ways of coping with recurring...
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is diagnosed if a person experiences at least six months of excessive worrying or feeling anxious about several events or activities on most days of the week. People with generalized anxiety disorder have at least three of the following symptoms: fatigue, difficulty concentrating or holding a thought, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance, restlessness, or feeling keyed up or on edge with a general sense of worry and anxiety.

In other anxiety disorders, the focus of the worry is something specific, such as the fear of certain animals (specific phobia) or a persistent, debilitating fear of germs (obsessive-compulsive disorder). With generalized anxiety disorder, the source of the worry changes, but the worry itself is present most of the time and is significant enough to interfere with the person's ability to function normally. The overarching sense of worry present in generalized anxiety disorder may also lead to somatization, which is an excessive focus on physical symptoms -- both real and imagined. Generalized anxiety disorder is often accompanied by depression, substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder. It can also be associated with insomnia, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and pain syndromes.
The Anxiety Disorders Association of America estimates that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) affects about 6.8 million American adults a year, with women being twice as likely to be affected as men. People who are suffering from GAD experience uncontrollable and extreme worry about hypothetical situations on a daily basis. These worries can become all-encompassing, which causes difficulty concentrating on daily activities. Expecting the worst and being unable to relax when thinking about topics such as health, family, money, and careers is a frequent, commonplace activity in the lives of those with GAD. While GAD can occur at any time in life, the National Institute of Health explains that the highest years of risk for development is between childhood and middle age.
William B. Salt II., MD
GAD is ongoing worry or fear that isn’t related to a particular event or
situation, or is out of proportion to what would be expected. An example
would be constantly worrying about a child who is perfectly healthy. 
Symptoms typically include muscle tension, trembling, shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, dry mouth, dizziness, nausea, irritability, loss of sleep, and lack of concentration.
Still Hurting? FIND HEALTH! Discover What's Behind Your SYMPTOMS (That Doctors Can't Explain)

More About this Book

Still Hurting? FIND HEALTH! Discover What's Behind Your SYMPTOMS (That Doctors Can't Explain)

Still Hurting? FIND HEALTH! presents a new model of disease, which empowers readers suffering with pain, symptoms (e.g., fatigue), and symptom syndromes (e.g., irritable bowel, fibromyalgia, chronic...
Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
All of us worry about things like health, money, or family problems at one time or another. But people with GAD are extremely worried about these and many other things, even when there is little or no reason to worry about them. They may be very anxious about just getting through the day. They think things will always go badly. At times, worrying keeps people with GAD from doing everyday tasks.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a disorder characterized by excessive anxiety and worry that interferes with the regular activities of a person's daily life. The anxiety is continuous or extremely frequent. A person suffering from generalized anxiety disorder worries constantly about things large or small, with or without reason. This disorder makes it difficult to lead a normal life and interferes with relationships.

Continue Learning about Generalized Anxiety Disorder

How can I help a child with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
World Federation For Mental Health (WFMH)World Federation For Mental Health (WFMH)
Parents, and other adults in children’s lives, including teachers or childcare providers, play a vit...
More Answers
What is the rate of incidence for generalized anxiety disorder?
Baptist Health South FloridaBaptist Health South Florida
While most people have experienced a bout of anxiety at some point, 5 to 11 percent of people experi...
More Answers
Why is generalized anxiety disorder more common in women than in men?
Multiple Sclerosis FoundationMultiple Sclerosis Foundation
While the cause and the reason why generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) -- uncontrollable and extr...
More Answers
How can I help a loved one who has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?
Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)Honor Society of Nursing (STTI)
When caring for someone with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), remember to offer both emotional an...
More Answers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.