Signs, Symptoms, and Effects of Anxiety

Understanding Anxiety

Learn More About Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive, extreme, and unrealistic worries, tension, or dread, often without a known stimulus. For people suffering from GAD, their anxiety, worry, and physical symptoms of this anxiety cause clinically significant distress or impairment in a number of different areas of their lives. According to the American Psychiatric Association, people suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, the intensity, duration, or frequency of their anxiety and worry is out of proportion to the actual likelihood or impact of the anticipated event. These people suffer from an inability to control their worry to keep their anxious thoughts from interfering with their ability to function on a day to day basis.


Statistics of Anxiety

It is estimated that generalized anxiety disorder affects 0.9% of adolescents and approximately 2.9% of the adult population in the United States. Females are believed to be twice as likely as males are to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety

Generalized anxiety disorder is not believed to exist as the result of any one single factor, but rather it is hypothesized that there are a number of different factors working together that lead to its onset. Some of these factors include:

Genetic: All of the different anxiety disorders are known to run in families, and generalized anxiety disorder is not an exception. If a person has a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, who suffers from GAD, the likelihood that he or she will suffer from symptoms of the disorder is great. Similarly, genetic influences play a significant role in the development of a person’s temperament, and this temperament can contribute to the way in which a person handles stress which may ultimately affect whether or not his or her stress will result in feelings of anxiety.

Physical: Neuroimaging studies conducted on people known to have GAD show the presence of subtle difference in certain areas of the brain, most prominently in the hippocampus and the amygdala. Abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, are also believed to play a role in the development of GAD.

Environmental: There are many environmental factors that can contribute to a person developing generalized anxiety disorder. If people are surrounded by high levels of stress, either at work, at school, or in their home life, they may struggle with strong symptoms of GAD. In addition, people who spend a significant amount of time in environments in which they have no control, such as in a chaotic home life where familial discord is excessive, they are at a higher risk of developing anxiety symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female (women are believed to be twice as likely as men are to be diagnosed with GAD)
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic physical health problems
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Substance abuse
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

While some of the signs and symptoms of GAD will be the same in both children and adults, there are others that will present quite differently. The following are examples of symptoms that may be present in a person suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, separated by childhood symptoms and adult symptoms:

Symptoms of GAD in adolescents:

  • School refusal
  • Temper tantrums
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling overly worried about how they will perform in school or in sporting events
  • Fearful of not fitting in with his or her peers
  • Lacking confidence / low self-esteem
  • Require excessive amounts of praise and approval on tasks that are completed
  • Having “perfectionist” tendencies
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Frequent urination
  • Repetitive thinking
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Social isolation

Symptoms of GAD in adults:

  • Chronic worries about seemingly insignificant concerns
  • Restlessness / constantly feeling “on edge”
  • Muscle tension
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling constantly under pressure
  • Excessive irritability
  • Accelerated heart rate
  • Inability to perform appropriately at work due to racing thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating


Effects of Anxiety

When people suffer from generalized anxiety disorder and do not receive treatment to ease their symptoms, there is the potential that they will suffer from a variety of long-term negative effects. Some of these effects may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Depression
  • Strained relationships
  • Substance abuse
  • Increased physical health problems
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders & the Complexity of Anxiety

While anxiety is commonly a symptom of other mental health illnesses, generalized anxiety disorder itself often occurs alongside other mental disorders. Some of the most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Other anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, etc.)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Borderline personality disorder
Our Client Experience

My anxiety got to the point where I was unable to function properly in public settings. Fortunately, Greenleaf was the best treatment option available near me so I was able to not only get treatment for my anxiety, but also overcome it.

– April S.
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