Chronic anxiety, tension and worry are the primary symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). While it is normal to experience some level of anxiety throughout life, people with generalized anxiety disorder experience severe anxiety even in the absence of stress-inducing events. Individuals with GAD are often aware their anxiety is out of proportion to their circumstances, but simply knowing this does little to reduce generalized anxiety disorder symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Different types of anxiety disorders can present with similar symptoms. It can be difficult, for instance, to distinguish the symptoms of anxiety attacks (panic disorder) from generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. Symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety, and phobias can also mimic generalized anxiety disorder symptoms.
GAD does, however, differ from other anxiety disorders in one important feature: most other anxiety disorders have specific symptom triggers. Social anxiety, for instance, only causes anxiety symptoms when the individual must socialize. Post traumatic stress disorder symptoms are triggered by sounds, activities or events that trigger memories of the traumatic incident, and phobia symptoms are triggered by the presence (or even just the thought of) the subject of the individual’s phobia.
Generalized anxiety disorder does not have a specific trigger. GAD causes anxiety about a range of events, activities and thoughts, and can cause symptoms without any identifiable cause of anxiety.
GAD Symptoms: Anxiety, Insomnia and More
Generalized anxiety disorder causes multiple symptoms in addition to tension and anxiety. Insomnia and other sleep disturbances are common amongst people with GAD, as are irritability and fatigue. Common symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include:
- anxiety in excess of what the situation demands
- chronic anxiety over multiple concerns
- depression symptoms
- difficulty thinking
- easily startled
- feeling constantly “on edge,” or “keyed up”
- inability to relax
- incessant worry or anxiety without reason
- mind “going blank”
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is a physical as well as emotional state, and triggers a number of physiological responses. With normal anxiety levels these physical responses make people more alert and ready to respond to events. In dangerous situations physical symptoms of anxiety prepare the body for avoiding or confronting potential threats.
Physical symptoms of anxiety are intended to be a short term response to stress or fear inducing events. These physical responses become problems if anxiety becomes chronic. Physical symptoms of anxiety include:
- feeling lightheaded
- feeling out of breath
- frequent urination
- hot flashes
- muscle tension/muscle aches
- rapid heartbeat
- swallowing difficulties
- trembling or twitching
Unlike other anxiety disorders, generalized anxiety disorder symptoms rarely cause people to avoid the source of their anxiety. Mental and physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder do, however, significantly impact all areas of life.
Depression and Anxiety Disorders
Generalized anxiety disorder rarely develops in isolation. More often GAD presents with another anxiety disorder, substance abuse or depression. Anxiety symptoms can be masked by symptoms of depression.
Childhood generalized anxiety disorder symptoms differ slightly from adult symptoms. Both adults and children should seek help if anxiety levels affect quality of life, or if anxiety symptoms occur in combination with depression symptoms or substance abuse.
As generalized anxiety disorder symptoms can worsen over time, the sooner a GAD diagnosis is made the better. GAD can trigger suicidal behavior, which should always be considered a medical emergency.