Harvard Mental Health Letter

Generalized anxiety disorder

Anxiety is often a healthy response to uncertainty and danger, but constant worry and nervousness may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. This common disorder affects about 5% to 6% of Americans at some point in their lives. Women are twice as likely as men to develop generalized anxiety disorder. Some research suggests that prevalence of this disorder increases with age. Generalized anxiety disorder usually first appears from young adulthood through the mid-50s — a later onset than seen with other psychiatric disorders. While other types of anxiety disorders — such as specific phobias or social anxiety disorder — arise from particular situations, generalized anxiety disorder is characterized chiefly by debilitating worry and agitation about nothing in particular or anything at all. The constant and continually changing worries of people with generalized anxiety disorder are mostly about everyday matters. They can't shake the feeling that something bad will happen and they will not be prepared. They may worry to excess about missing an appointment, losing a job, or having an accident. Some people even worry about worrying too much. Physical symptoms — racing heart, dry mouth, upset stomach, muscle tension, sweating, trembling, and irritability — are an integral part of generalized anxiety disorder. Over time, these physical manifestations of anxiety may adversely affect health. 
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