Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition characterized by moments of extreme anxiety that interfere with a patient’s everyday life.
There are many symptoms of this disorder, some subtler than others. If you experience any symptoms, you should see a trusted health professional.
Here are nine common symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
When your thoughts are constantly racing, your mind and body both have a hard time relaxing, even in mundane situations.
People with anxiety are known to fidget or bounce their legs just for some energy release, especially if they need to stay in one place.
That’s because GAD can lead you to be in a near-constant state of fight or flight, staying hyper-aware of your surroundings and suspecting harmless objects or people to be threats.
With GAD, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of catastrophizing any situation, preventing you from enjoying things even when they’re good because you always expect the other shoe to drop.
Everyone suffers from fear and panic from time to time. There are scary things and situations in the world that you can’t control. Depending on their situation in life, some people suffer from more anxiety than others.
For people living with GAD, it’s common to experience these states of fear, anxiousness and panic when there’s no reason. Most times, GAD patients know when an anxious state is irrational, but the symptoms of their anxiety are still very real.
An irrational fear could be as mundane as getting into an accident on the way to the grocery store or going to dinner with friends you’re afraid will hate you after. You might be familiar with the route to the store and know there’s good weather and low traffic, but you still get anxious. There may be no reason that your close friends would start hating you just for going out to dinner, but you might feel that way all the same.
For many with GAD, it can be a struggle to differentiate between their intuition and the symptoms of their anxiety disorder.
One of the physical symptoms of GAD is heart palpitations. People living with the condition often experience frequent episodes where they feel like their heart is racing, fluttering, or skipping beats.
This is due to the fight-or-flight response that many people deal with during times of anxiety.
Heart palpitations are a normal reaction to anxiety or stress, and an occasional episode linked to it shouldn’t do any permanent damage. However, frequent episodes of palpitations can cause strain on the cardiovascular and other systems.
It’s important to note that palpitations don’t just occur because of anxiety, and if anything seems abnormal, it’s good to talk to your doctor and ensure you don’t have an underlying heart condition.
People with GAD tend to experience anxiety at night, which can interfere with them getting a good night’s rest.
Racing thoughts coupled with a restless body can lead to rough nights. The lack of sleep can also exacerbate other GAD symptoms, creating a vicious cycle.
When sleep loss is due to this condition, it usually features unrealistic thoughts and feelings about the outcome of different situations.
Sleep supplements can help with this symptom, but it’s important to talk with your doctor before trying anything new.
When someone suffers from GAD, the disorder will likely send signals to the stomach and intestines, making them feel unwell.
This could present in random pains, nausea or diarrhea. However, severe stomach discomfort should get examined by a health care provider. You want to rule out any other health issues that could lead to the same stomach symptoms.
When you feel stressed or anxious, the brain tells your body to trigger your fight or flight response so your body has enough oxygen to do what it needs to do. Your brain is looking for a way to increase oxygen intake to power your muscles and escape the perceived dangerous situation.
To meet those demands, you will start taking shorter and shallow breaths. It can turn into hyperventilating and a vicious cycle of breathing faster since you feel like you aren’t getting deep-enough breaths. Your brain tells you to get more oxygen, making you feel short of breath and more stressed.
If you are constantly busy with lots of demands thrown at you, memory problems are a typical GAD symptom. Even if you don’t have to deal with yelling children, bills or work overwhelming you, you can still have the same reaction.
Your brain constantly scans the environment and internal body for threats to decide if you are safe. It’s trying to keep track of a bunch of things simultaneously, causing you to feel easily distracted and stressed. You will have trouble taking in, retaining and recalling new information.
Your nervous system is programmed to prepare for a fight, which will cause your muscles to feel tense and ready for the perceived conflict. It can be challenging to maintain good posture or nourish the body with exercise when you’re anxious. These things help muscle tension, so keeping it on the top of your priority list is essential. Typically, you will feel the strain in the neck and back, which can be difficult to deal with.
When you are in a constant state of anxiety, your nervous system is in overdrive. It can make you tired since you are expending a lot of energy to stay in the fight or flight response. You could simply think you’re not getting enough shuteye or consistently feel like you’re on the verge of falling asleep. No matter how much rest or caffeine you have, it doesn’t seem to help. You may also feel weaker physically, like in sports or weightlifting, causing you not to perform as well.
It’s possible for neck and back tension to cause headaches. Anxiety can cause you to clench your teeth, not hydrate, not sleep and lack exercise, which will contribute too. When you feel stressed and anxious, you may not be able to care for yourself like you usually would, causing headaches. When you’re experiencing head pain at an abnormal rate, it can be one of the severe anxiety symptoms.
Tremors, twitches and shaking are similar to what you do when something’s scary or intense. Adrenaline and other stress hormones tell your muscles you’re preparing for a fight. These physical reactions happen since there’s a massive surge of energy rushing through you with nowhere to go.
Your body wants to get rid of any extra things in your body. It may produce more urine when you’re anxious and intensify the urge since the bladder contracts when stress hormones are released. It can cause it to squeeze down in a different way than usual.
Another symptom of anxiety you can experience is throat tightness. It feels like the throat is physically tighter and gets to the point you can’t eat or drink because you’re so afraid of the tightness and discomfort.
A dry mouth can occur, which can trigger feelings that there is a lump in your throat. The muscles in your face and chest can get tight and make you feel like your throat is closing. Throat tightness can go hand in hand with muscle tension since the muscles around the throat can tense and feel like they’re squeezing.
There are a couple of ways GAD can lead to worsening acne. Stress hormones, sweat and touching or picking your face can affect you while having anxiety. It could be a combination of those things coming together to cause more significant issues with your skin.
You may pick at areas of the face that don’t even have blemishes to cope with the feelings of stress. Whether there is something to be picked at or not, it can harm your skin by making the blemish scar or get worse.
Blurry vision can be caused by hyperventilation and dizziness. It can also be from the sympathetic nervous system taking over and your brain trying to focus on whatever the immediate threat may be.
If you’re in an actual situation where you need to escape, your body doesn’t want you to be distracted by what is happening around you. When you get scared or anxious, your pupils dilate, allowing more light to come in. This is meant to help you see better when fighting or running from a threat, but all the extra light can overwhelm your vision.
Generalized anxiety disorder can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxing your body after stress. Your body is telling you to rest and give it time to digest anything in your system. An important aspect of digestion is saliva production — it helps you swallow and break down food.
When you’re stressed and feel anxiety symptoms, your body “turns off” the parasympathetic nervous system. This tells your body it is not the time to relax and digest — you must deal with whatever is causing the stress first. Since your body isn’t in digestion mode, it will stop producing saliva. Your mouth gets really dry because your brain is sending signals that you aren’t eating anytime soon.
Temperature fluctuations can be uncomfortable, whether hot flashes or chills. Your body thinks it’s getting ready for a fight when experiencing severe anxiety symptoms. Changes in your blood cause you to feel overheated and sweat or flush your face.
Once you overheat, you may start to sweat since your body is looking for ways to cool itself down. If you feel anxious and aren’t getting relief, there will be fluctuations in your body temperature. That means you might be overheating one moment, and the next, you’re cold. Your body is trying to regulate temperature and simultaneously prepare for a perceived fight.
Anxiety symptoms can include shortness of breath, causing hyperventilation. During this, you release more carbon dioxide than usual. You need a specific amount of carbon dioxide in your body to keep it functioning at its best. Hyperventilation causes an excess amount of carbon dioxide, causing changes in the pH of your blood. The differences cause essential electrolytes and blood vessels to decrease function.
Changes are already occurring because of stress hormones, so all the changes overwhelm the body. The blood vessels in your body parts can start to restrict, reducing blood flow and causing them to feel cold, tingly or numb.
Yawning is an interesting symptom of anxiety that does not have a definite reason for happening. It could be another symptom related to hyperventilation. Yawning sometimes happens because of changes in blood levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide or as a way to cool the body down. If you tend to overheat when anxious, you might yawn to compensate for it.
Dizziness is another symptom related to hyperventilation when your anxiety levels may be rising. Even if you increase the pace of your breathing slightly, it changes how blood vessels carry blood to the brain. Blood flow to the brain decreases when your breath is heavier than usual. Since the blood flow slows down, you may feel lightheaded or dizzy.
When anxious, you may also focus on minor sensations you would not usually pay attention to. Maybe you stood up too fast and you feel a wave of dizziness. You may overanalyze and become more stressed since you’re already feeling anxious.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder presents in many ways and can make people feel hopeless. However, by identifying the symptoms and seeking help from a mental health professional, you can get the right treatment for you.