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What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder Psychology?

What Causes Generalized Anxiety Disorder Psychology

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a mental illness. The Mayo Clinic characterizes GAD as “severe ongoing anxiety that interferes with daily activities.” Anxiety is a normal emotional reaction in response to stressful situations. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) explains that generalized anxiety disorder is one of the most “common mental disorders in the United States, and can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life and disrupt important activities of daily living.” An adolescent that struggles with GAD will likely experience a large percentage of his or her waking hours excessively worrying about something, even when there is no specific threat present. Reports have noted that GAD affects nearly eight percent of teenagers in America. 

Cause and Risk Factors

While the exact cause of generalized anxiety disorder remains unknown, research has deduced that it likely involves a combination of biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Winchester Hospital identifies several known risk factors that can increase one’s propensity for developing GAD, such as:

  • Family history of anxiety disorders
  • Medical condition, as people with chronic illness have a greater risk of GAD
  • Substance abuse
  • History of stressful life events (e.g., traumatic event, childhood abuse or neglect, divorce, etc.)

It is not uncommon for other anxiety disorders to co-occur in a young person with generalized anxiety disorder. To conclusively understand the precise cause of GAD, additional research is required. 

Signs and Symptoms

Excessive worry may manifest in a teen for a variety of reasons. For example, a teenager may be irrationally worried about a family member’s safety, punctuality, catastrophic events (e.g., nuclear war, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.), academic performance, and more. A young person with excessive worry may lack confidence, constantly seek peer approval, and/ or external validation, which can contribute to his or her anxiety. Physical symptoms that a young person with GAD could develop include any combination of the following examples, provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Nervousness
  • Trembling
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea 
  • Chronic headaches

Every person is different, and the symptoms of GAD that present in each teen will range in severity and duration. To be clinically diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, a young person must experience ongoing, debilitating symptoms for more than six months. Young people with generalized anxiety disorder will excessively worry over everyday life events. The anxiety is typically derived from usual life circumstances, which quickly develop into unmanageable worrisome thoughts. 

For Information and Support

Every family in need of mental health treatment must select a program that will best suit the needs of their family. When one member of a family struggles, it impacts everyone in the family unit. To maximize the benefits of treatment we work closely with the entire family to ensure that everyone is receiving the support they need through these difficult times.

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person’s life, long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.


We are available to answer any questions you may have regarding mental health treatment and our residential program, anytime. Contact us today using the form to the right.

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