What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a term generally recognized by individuals, but something more difficult to fully understand. Having a better understanding of the overall concept of anxiety, and more specifically, generalized anxiety disorder, are important for recognizing mental health and how issues are related to individual well-being.

Anxiety in general is commonly experienced. It is understood as a normal and often healthy emotion which is characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes (e.g., increased blood pressure). Anxiety has been shown in research as a part of the body’s natural response to stress, as part of what is considered the fight or flight response. In smaller doses, anxiety can be considered a normal and healthy aspect of life wherein it helps individual cope with stressful situations. However, when these feelings of tension and worry become excessive and persistent to the point when they interfere with daily life functioning, it becomes a disorder.

How is GAD different from Anxiety?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) refers to an excessive and persistent feeling of worry. Categorized as a chronic condition, this can be related to a variety of life aspects (e.g., friendship, future, school/career) and presents as a hindrance to daily life functioning. For example, individuals struggling with GAD may find themselves feeling an uncontrolled worry about their everyday events. Not only are these feelings of worry chronic, but they are also experienced in disproportionate levels to the actual likelihood of the event or concern. Where an event may have a negative potential consequence, anxiety from GAD leads individuals to expect the worst possible scenario, often when it is not the appropriate response.

Impacts of GAD are manyfold, to multiple aspects of life. Physical health is negatively impacted, for example with restlessness and easy fatigue, muscle tension, and disturbed sleep. Physical consequences can also include headaches and stomachaches, which often result from the constant tension. In terms of mental wellbeing, GAD is seen in higher levels of irritability and difficulty with concentration.

Why is GAD Important to Understand?

For the general population, the existence and understanding of GAD are critical for several reasons. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of GAD can lead to early intervention, which is key in disorder management. In addition, increased awareness and destigmatization may encourage individuals to seek help and support (e.g., therapy, lifestyle changes). Improvements to societal understanding allows for fostering empathy, improvement to mental health services, and development of more treatment options. For those who are experiencing GAD themselves, increased comprehension of what GAD means and how it looks for them can help demystify the experiences they are having which opens up the possibility for seeking help and developming coping strategies.