What is generalized anxiety?

The definition of Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is that it is an extremely common condition with harmful consequences for health and quality of life. It is a member of the family of anxiety disorders, along with phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and OCD. It refers to a pathological state of permanent anxiety that interferes with daily life and causes suffering.

man who seems anxious - definition generalized anxiety

Pathological anxiety?

While it is a normal experience for any individual to experience stress and anxiety at various times in their life, it is considered pathological when a person experiences high levels of anxiety continuously and/or chronically over a period of several months in different types of situations in different areas of life (personal, professional, family, etc.). In this case, it is called generalised anxiety disorder or GAD, which is very often extremely disabling in the sense that it is not limited to a specific object on which the anxieties are focused, as is the case with other anxiety disorders such as, for example, specific phobias

Indeed, it is necessary to conceive that this perpetual anxiety is the product of a dysfunctional thought system which forces the individual to consider almost exclusively the negative outcomes of each situation in which he finds himself. It manifests itself as constant unhappiness, intense distress because every event is then the subject of strong anxieties that the individual tries but fails to overcome. Generalized anxiety is really like a vicious circle in the sense that every negative thought leads to other negative ideas that lock in and reinforce this system of thoughts that is harmful to health. In acute episodes of anxiety, GAD can culminate in panic attacks which in turn become a new cause of anxiety.

Worrying to cope with ‘dangers

To understand how this disorder works, it is important to see that anxiety takes the form of multiple worries about everything the person with GAD experiences. In other words, the individual systematically projects himself on the often supposed negative consequences and cannot stop thinking about them in order to solve these possible problems before they arise. The subject is therefore no longer able to be in the present moment, to feel positive emotions for the simple reason that the only thing on his mind are the catastrophic scenarios he constantly imagines. This sudden focus is therefore the cause of great moral suffering. It is also paradoxical in the sense that it is also perceived positively. Worrying is in fact seen as a way of anticipating in a hostile world and therefore to some extent as an effective protective mechanism against the many imagined threats. However, in generalized anxiety disorder, the person concerned is often aware of the excessiveness of his or her reactions, as these apply to all situations regardless of how trivial they may be. The disorder interferes with and prevents the individual from functioning normally.

“No matter how much I’m reasoned with, I can’t help it.”

Imagine that you have an appointment with one of your friends who is not known for his punctuality. You are there on time but he is not, which is quite normal given your past record. 5 minutes pass and he is still not there, you have not heard from him, he has not called you and he is not answering your calls either. This banal situation is unbearable for you. You have the deep and immediate feeling that something serious has happened to him. You are hyper-vigilant and every element in the environment is perceived as a clue confirming your intuition. You hear a siren in the street and you immediately imagine him injured or even dead. You are petrified, on the verge of tears, and you can’t get the idea out of your head. Finally he arrives and tells you that he was in the transport. You are relieved but you still feel distressed, you have difficulty recovering from the strong emotions you have felt and you tell yourself that it might be better not to go out again so as not to get into such a state.

Who is affected by GAD?

Generalized anxiety disorder is a particularly common disorder worldwide. It is estimated that 6% of the population develops GAD in their lifetime. In general, it often occurs in young people, in their early teens or adulthood, but can also appear later in life. Statistically, women are twice as affected as men. GAD develops gradually and is facilitated by a tendency to worry that can begin in childhood, making it one of the most stable anxiety disorders because it is deeply rooted in the subject’s functioning. It has also been shown that generalized anxiety was more frequent after a separation, a divorce and in situations of inactivity.

Intolerance of uncertainty is often identified as the central characteristic in the individual to explain the onset and deployment of generalised anxiety. This intolerance is defined as the inability of a person to accept the possibility that even the smallest negative event may occur. It is this trait that will therefore contribute greatly to the rumination on disaster scenarios, as worrying and thinking about them constantly is seen as a way of preventing, of escaping the imagined and envisaged negative outcomes

Studies show that an individual without an anxiety disorder spends an average of 55 minutes worrying in a day compared to more than 5 hours for a person with generalised anxiety.

The main symptoms of GAD

A person with GAD is constantly overwhelmed by anxieties that could affect all areas of their life. He or she will worry about situations related to his or her professional life, family life or even events in the world in a completely uncontrollable way. The intense anxiety that is constantly felt takes on different somatic forms. Thus, people suffering from GAD may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Great difficulty in concentrating or remembering;
  • Feeling overexcited or nervous ;
  • Fatigability ;
  • Irritability ;
  • Muscle tension;
  • Insomnia or very poor sleep quality ;
  • Dizziness, dizziness or feeling of impending faintness;
  • Headaches;
  • Nausea ;
  • Palpitations and increased heart rate.


In general, GAD sufferers experience diffuse residual pain that is difficult to identify precisely. These pains are the result of a continuous state of tension that exhausts the individual mentally and physically. When anxiety reaches particularly high levels, it is not uncommon to experience episodes of panic attacks.

As a result, GAD causes individuals to live in systematic anxious anticipation of every situation they experience, believing that a catastrophe is about to occur at any moment, and of their own negative emotional reactions.