What Should I Know About Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

What Should I Know About Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

There is no one known cause of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) that has been identified. Evidence has shown multiple factors are usually at play, influencing development of GAD. Some factors include things like genetics, brain chemistry, family history, and life experiences. Learn more about GAD.


Genetics may play a role in determining whether or not you develop GAD. as with other mental health and medical conditions, people can be genetically predisposed for developing certain symptoms. This is the same with generalized anxiety disorder. Technological and methodological advances have helped researchers looked at the role genes play in developing GAD. Genetics have a component but triggers in the environment may also play a role. For instance:

  • First degree relatives of someone with GAD are more likely to develop mood and anxiety disorders.
  • Women are more prone to anxiety disorders
  • Many people diagnosed are found to be struggling with symptoms for years before seeing a professional and being diagnosed
  • GAD usually comes on gradually with a risk between childhood and middle age increasing

Brain Structure

The limbic system is a collection of brain structures that is involved in the regulation of basic emotional reactions. It is generally under the control of the thinking part of the brain that responds to stimuli on its own.

  • Amygdala is part of the limbic system involved in automatic fear response
  • Understanding the amygdala is an important player in our ability to discern and feel fear
  • Researchers believe heightened activity in the amygdala may influence the inaccurate interpretations of social behavior for people with GAD
  • Gray matter is another factor in anxiety and mood disorders. One area of the brain that shows an increased volume of gray matter in people with GAD is called right putamen
  • This is a larger volume of gray matter in the right putamen that correlates to childhood abuse

Life Experiences

Although genetic and biologic factors contribute to development of GAD, a greater percentage of the risk for GAD lies in complex psychologically, environmental, and societal factors. Mental health researchers have found childhood trauma increases the risk of developing GAD. Difficult experiences including physical and mental abuse, neglect, and death of a loved one can be contributing factors. When we go through hard things that leave us apprehensive or untrusting, we may become anxious in a variety of situations in the future.


Food can be a contributing factor to anxiety. Caffeine and soda are two of the things that may increase risk of anxiety for some people, especially in large quantities. Nutrition is not only just drinks but also sugary foods, those high in fat and loaded with carbs that contribute to decreased nutrition and increased risk of health challenges.

Not all risk factors for GAD are within our control. Many can be manageable. There are effective strategies for coping with trauma and stress. If you are at risk or think you have GAD, take a step forward and reach out for help. There are professionals and other people willing to help.

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