What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder? – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Sleepy ManGeneralized Anxiety Disorder
People with Generalized Anxiety Disorder or GAD experience an excessive amount of worry about everyday subjects such as work, family, friends, and health. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) (2013) states that “Anxiety disorders affects about 40 million Americans age 18 years and older (about 18 percent) in a given year”. The feeling of anxiety is persistent and lasts for more than 6 months.

People with GAD tend to exaggerate the feeling of uneasiness and tension when there is no reason to worry. The disorder may keep people from doing things they enjoy because they are fearful of the consequences.

The disorder can develop at any age of a person’s lifetime whether it is during childhood or adulthood. The symptoms of the disorder can mimic other mood disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder. Generalized Anxiety Disorder can be a life-long condition. Women are twice more likely to be diagnosed with the illness than men (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2014).

Young child frightened parentsCauses of GAD
The cause(s) of Generalized Anxiety Disorder are unknown. There is evidence that the condition may be inherited however the findings are inconclusive. Environmental factors may play a role in the progression of the illness. Living in a stressful household or working in an uneasy workplace may exacerbate GAD (National Institute of Mental Health [NIMH], 2014).

AnxietySymptoms of GAD
The National Institute of Mental Health (2014) states that the physical symptoms of anxiety are “fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, nausea, lightheadedness, having to go to the bathroom frequently, feeling out of breath, and hot flashes.”  Mayo Clinic (2014) provides a list of the general symptoms people may exhibit from the condition. The symptoms include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or feeling that your mind “goes blank”
  • Worrying about excessively worrying
  • Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
  • Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty or indecisiveness

 Worried elderly woman

“People with GAD can’t seem to get rid of their concerns, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants. They can’t relax, startle easily, and have difficulty concentrating. Often they have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.”   -National Institute of Mental Health (2014)

Worried depressed older manDiagnosis of GAD
When a person has persistent and excessive feelings of uneasiness, anxiety and worry for longer than 6 months, it is recommended to seek a medical professional to receive a diagnosis. Since the cause(s) of Generalized Anxiety Disorder are unknown, it can be difficult to properly diagnose the disorder without ruling out other illnesses that manifest similar symptoms. The doctor will perform a thorough mental health examination. If Generalized Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed, the doctor will discuss proper forms of treatment.

Treatments for GAD
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is commonly treated with three types of treatments: psychotherapy, medication, or lifestyle changes. In psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy is beneficial for people suffering from GAD.
Teenager stressed in libraryThe National Alliance on Mental Illness (2012) states that “Cognitive behavior therapy is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors”.  People learn to think and react differently to certain stressful situations to prevent self-destructive behaviors and negative thoughts that could cause anxiety. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines are used to treat GAD.

Antidepressant medications such as Prozac are also helpful in treating mood disorders; however people can have suicidal thoughts while on antidepressants.

Natural Holistic Lifestyle Changes
Mayo Clinic lists the following natural lifestyle changes that are helpful in preventing and treating GAD:

Young adults yoga

  • Keep physically active. Develop a routine so that you’re physically active most days of the week. Exercise is a powerful stress reducer. It may improve your mood and help you stay healthy. Start out slowly and gradually increase the amount and intensity of your activities.

Alcohol and depression

    • Avoid alcohol and other sedatives. These substances can worsen anxiety.
    • Quit smoking and cut back or quit drinking coffee. Both nicotine and caffeine can worsen anxiety.
  • Make sleep a priority. Do what you can to make sure you’re getting enough sleep to feel rested. If you aren’t sleeping well, see your doctor.
    Woman eating healthy salad
  • Eat healthy. Healthy eating-such as focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish- may be linked to reduced anxiety, but more research is needed.

Alternative Treatments for Generalized Anxiety Disorder
In addition to the natural holistic lifestyle changes listed above, there are other effective natural and alternative methods for treating Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some of the most popular methods are:  acupuncture,yoga, and meditation.


Acupuncture treatment

Acupuncture needles in woman’s spine

Acupuncture is a form of Chinese medicine that focuses on the human body’s flow of energy. With acupuncture, needles are inserted into certain areas of the body. Acupuncture is becoming more widely used as a treatment for a wide variety of mood disorders.

is a Hindu philosophy. yoga matsThe goal of practicing yoga is to gain control over the mind and body through physical postures and breathing exercises. Research studies show that yoga can significantly reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.


Meditation is a type of relaxation technique Meditation older peoplepeople use to calm the mind and to eliminate negative thoughts (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013). Many research studies have been conducted on the effects of meditation in reducing anxiety and stress. Recently the United States government has been  conducting research using meditation with men and women in the military.  See our article, “Marines are Meditating! Mindfulness- Based Fitness.”


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a serious condition which can begin at any age in a person’s lifetime.  If you believe you have GAD and your symptoms have lasted for more than six months, consult with your trusted family physician or health practitioner.  There are many treatment options available to help you.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2014). Treating Anxiety Disorders. Complementary & Alternative Treatment. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

Duckworth, K., & Freedman, J. (2012, July). Treatment and Services. Retrieved November 19, 2014, from http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Inform_Yourself/

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Definition. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/basics/definition/con-20024562

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (2013). Anxiety. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from, http://nccam.nih.gov/health/anxiety

National Institute of Mental Health. (2014). What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Retrieved November 21, 2014 from, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad/index.shtml




This articleHang Pham, MBHA Health Educator is written by Hang Pham. Hang Pham is a Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance Health and Wellness Educator. Hang Pham was born in Hoc Mon, Vietnam. She came to America in 1994, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2011. Hang graduated from Seaside High School with diploma and received her AA in General Studies from Monterey Peninsula College in 2011. She received her BA in Collaborative Health and Human Services from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) in 2012. In addition to working as a volunteer staff with the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, she currently works as a Clerical Aid in the Human Resources Department of Salinas City Hall. The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a registered 501 (c) 3 nonprofit health and wellness education organization. For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance contact us or visit our website at www.montereybayholistic.com.

The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501(c)3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.



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