Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental condition in which you are frequently worried or anxious about many things. Even when there is no clear cause, you are still not able to control your anxiety.
The right treatment can often improve GAD. You and your health care provider should make a treatment plan that could include talk therapy (psychotherapy), taking medicine, or both.
Your provider may prescribe one or more medicines, including:
- An antidepressant, which can help with anxiety and depression. This kind of medicine can take weeks to work. It is a safe medium- to long-term treatment for GAD.
- A benzodiazepine, which acts faster than an antidepressant to control anxiety. But it can become less effective over time. Your provider may prescribe a benzodiazepine to help your anxiety while you wait for the antidepressant to work.
When taking medicine for GAD:
- Keep your provider informed about your symptoms. If a medicine is not controlling symptoms, its dosage may need to be changed, or you may need to try a new medicine instead.
- DO NOT change the dosage or stop taking the medicine without talking to your provider.
- Take medicine at set times. For example, take it every day at breakfast. Check with your provider about the best time to take your medicine.
- Ask your provider about side effects and what to do if they occur.
Talk therapy takes place with a trained therapist and in a safe place. It helps you learn ways of managing and reducing your anxiety. Some forms of talk therapy can help you understand what causes your anxiety. This allows you to gain better control over it.
Many types of talk therapy may be helpful for GAD. One common and effective talk therapy is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you understand the relationship between your thoughts, your behaviors, and your symptoms. Often CBT involves a set number of visits. During CBT you can learn how to:
- Understand and gain control of distorted views of stressors, such as other people's behavior or life events.
- Recognize and replace panic-causing thoughts to help you feel more in control.
- Manage stress and relax when symptoms occur.
- Avoid thinking that minor problems will develop into terrible ones.
Your provider can discuss talk therapy options with you. Then you can decide together if it is right for you.
Other Ways to Manage Your Anxiety
Taking medicine and going to talk therapy can get you started on the road to feeling better. It can also help you take care of your body and relationships. To help improve your condition:
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat healthy foods.
- Keep a regular daily schedule.
- Get out of the house every day.
- Exercise every day. Even a little bit of exercise, such as a 15-minute walk, can help.
- Stay away from alcohol and street drugs.
- Talk with family or friends when you feel nervous or frightened.
- Find out about different types of group activities you can join.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you:
- Find it hard to control your anxiety
- Do not sleep well
- Feel sad or feel like you want to hurt yourself
- Have physical symptoms from your anxiety
GAD - self-care; Anxiety - self-care; Anxiety disorder - self-care
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.
Bui E, Pollack MH, Kinrys G, Delong H, Vasconcelos e Sa D, Simon NM. The pharmacotherapy of anxiety disorders. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 41.
Calkins AW, Bui E, Taylor CT, Pollack MH, LeBeau RT, Simon NM. Anxiety disorders. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 32.
Sprich SE, Olatunji BO, Reese HE, Otto MW, Rosenfield E, Wilhelm S. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, behavioral therapy, and cognitive therapy. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 16.
Update Date 5/21/2015
Updated by: Timothy Rogge, MD, medical director, Family Medical Psychiatry Center, Kirkland, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.