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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is defined as a sense of apprehension or fear accompanied by physiological reactions. In those with general anxiety disorder (GAD), this sense of fear is typically excessive, uncontrollable, unexplained and irrational.

As is the case with other disorders, there are biological and environmental factors that contribute to the onset of GAD. There is research that suggests there is a strong hereditary element to the tendency to get GAD1. In the brain, neurotransmitters that are out of balance can lead to anxiety. A traumatic event in someone’s life can also increase the likelihood of developing GAD or worsen GAD symptoms.

Over 10 million Americans suffer from GAD every year. Although its onset is more common in adolescence, many adults also develop GAD and it is much more common in women than men3. Those who have suffered from GAD are unfortunately significantly more likely to get it again than someone who has not.

The DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for GAS is as follows2:

A. Excessive anxiety occurring more-days-than-not for at least 6 months

B. The anxiety is difficult to control

C. Anxiety is associated with three or more of the following six symptoms

  1. restlessness
  2. easily fatigued
  3. difficulty concentrating
  4. irritability
  5. muscle tension
  6. sleep disturbance

Insomnia is a common side effect of this disorder. (Image credit: Alyssa L. Miller)

D. Focus of anxiety is not confined to features of other Axis I disorders

E. The anxiety causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social and occupational functioning

F. Disturbance is not due to effects of a substance

The important aspect of GAD that distinguishes it from regular stress is that it is unquestionably out of proportion to the sufferer’s environment. A constant sense of fear and dread often will take over someone with GAD’s life if gone untreated to the point where it interferes with daily functions.

Symptoms of GAD are very similar to regular stress, but are more intense and persistant. These symptoms include3:

  • excessive, ongoing worry
  • irritability
  • headaches
  • muscle tension
  • trouble sleeping



1. Kenneth S. Kendler et al., (1992). Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Women A Population-Based Twin Study. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 49 (4), pp.267-272


3. BehaveNet (). Generalized Anxiety Disorder. [ONLINE] Available at: http://behavenet.com/generalized-anxiety-disorder. [Last Accessed 5.12.2013].

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