Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Anxiety Disorder

If you or your loved one are struggling with anxiety, Vermilion is here to help. Learning about anxiety can help you or your loved one manage its symptoms.

Understanding Anxiety

Learn about anxiety

Pervasive fear, worry, and apprehension experienced on an extreme level is indicative of generalized anxiety disorder, also known as GAD. Characterized by a lack of control over these feelings of panic, concern, and trepidation, those with generalized anxiety disorder can experience a great deal of disruption in their lives if treatment is not sought. Being able to function at home, school, work, or out in public can be exceedingly difficult for an individual with GAD. Even attempts to complete the most mundane of tasks are not without their obstacles.

Often times, those with generalized anxiety disorder will fret about things or situations that would otherwise cause flat affect in another person. This ever-present distress and dread could ultimately cause a person to feel tense and lead to procrastinating or avoidance behaviors due to the fear of the unknown. And while a person with generalized anxiety disorder may feel as though he or she is a captive of their own worry, there are treatment options available. Effective treatment modalities, such as medication and therapy, are proven to help those struggling with the disorder by alleviating symptoms and improving day-to-day functioning in the world.

Statistics

Anxiety statistics

Among the most common of disorders diagnosed, generalized anxiety disorder is said to effect almost 1% of children and adolescents and nearly 3% of adults. Moreover, research has found that females have a higher likelihood of developing GAD than males.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for anxiety

To understand why a person develops generalized anxiety disorder, one must acknowledge that there are a number of influences that play into the disorder’s onset. Consider the following explanations that are supported by research:

Genetic: Experts have concluded that a person’s genetics contribute to the likelihood of an eventual GAD diagnosis. The presence of a first-degree relative with the disorder have an increased risk of showing signs of anxiety. Moreover, it is believed that a person’s temperament, which is said to be genetic, can indicate how he or she will handle stress.

Physical: Certain chemicals in the brain are responsible for regulating a person’s emotions. These chemicals, known as serotonin, are often imbalanced in the brain of a person with generalized anxiety disorder and could explain, through neuroimaging, why a person develops GAD. Furthermore, research has found that there are structural differences in the brains of individuals with generalized anxiety disorder, specifically in the hippocampus and amygdala.

Environmental: Surroundings ripe with chronic stress, such as chaotic home environments, overcrowded classrooms, or high pressure workplaces, are known contributors to the development of GAD. These kinds of environments challenge a person’s ability to cope and can render a person more susceptible to showing signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Preexisting mental disorder
  • Exposure to violence
  • History of abuse / neglect / trauma
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Chronic stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of DISORDER

Some signs and symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder can present different in children and adolescents in comparison to adults. The following signs and symptoms are indicators that an individual is struggling with GAD:

GAD symptoms in children and adolescents:

  • Restlessness
  • Temper tantrums
  • Sleep impairment
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Contact worry about academic performance / achievement
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of social skills
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Praise-seeking behaviors
  • Frequent urination
  • Fear of not adapting to social norms
  • Overthinking

GAD symptoms in adults:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Decreased occupational functioning
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing / hyperventilating
  • Irritability / agitation
  • Muscle tension
  • Broken sleep patterns
  • Feelings of being overwhelmed
  • Racing thoughts
  • Constantly feeling on edge

Effects

Effects of anxiety

Untreated generalized anxiety disorder can cause debilitating effects on a person’s life. Alleviating symptoms and developing healthy coping skills are necessary to resuming normal functioning without disruption from GAD symptoms. Some examples of possible effects that can occur are:

  • Social impairment
  • Decrease in academic or occupational functioning
  • Relationship problems
  • Truancy
  • Missed school / work
  • Substance use
  • Inability to adjust to change
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

Anxiety and co-occurring disorders

Generalized anxiety disorder is often not a stand-alone disorder. The following list of disorders can occur in conjunction with GAD:

  • Other anxiety disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attachment disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder