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What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person has excessive anxiety and worry concerning events or activities, such as work or school performance, occurring more days than not for at least 6 months. The individual has difficulty controlling the worry, and has three or more of the following symptoms:

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge 
  • Easily fatigued 
  • Difficulty concentrating, or mind going blank 
  • Irritability 
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep

    In addition, the anxiety causes significant distress or impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning. A diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder is possible when the anxiety is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (drug of abuse or medication) or another medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism. Neither can the condition be explained by another anxiety disorder.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Epidemiology

  • Generalized anxiety disorder is a common condition. Estimates for its prevalence lasting 1 year or longer range from 3 to 8 percent.
  • About twice as many women have anxiety disorder as men.
  • The disorder usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood but is also commonly seen in older adults.

Generalized Anxiety Comorbidity

  •  It’s estimated that 50 to 90 percent of individuals with generalized anxiety disorder have another mental disorder.
  •  As many as 25 percent of patients eventually experience panic disorder.
  •  An additional high percentage of patients are likely to have major depressive disorder.
  •  Other common conditions associated with generalized anxiety disorder are dysthymic depressive disorder and substance-related disorders.

Psychosocial Factors of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  •  The cognitive-behavioral school of psychology believes that patients with generalized anxiety disorders respond to incorrectly perceived dangers. The inaccuracy comes from focusing on negative details in the environment, by distortions in information processing, and by an overly negative view of one’s ability to cope.
  •  The psychoanalytic school hypothesizes that anxiety is a symptom of unresolved, unconscious conflicts.

Mental Health Library Sources:

Information included in all topics of the Mental Health Library comes from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria From DSM-5 and Kaplan & Sadock’s Concise Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry. Complete diagnostic and treatment information may be found within these publications.


Information within the Mental Health Library is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis purposes. Rather, it is provided as a public educational service to make people aware of mental health conditions. Please consult a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis of any suspected mental health illness.

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