Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is much more than the normal anxiety people experience day to day. It is a chronic condition that affects as many as 12 million adult Americans.
There are two core features of GAD, and the first is excessive worry about things that are either unlikely to happen, or are not nearly as potentially traumatic as worriers think. Examples are worrying about the health of one's family, or worrying about not getting everything done on time at work or at home, or worrying about not being good enough as a parent or as a husband or wife. Worry is almost always about events that could happen in the future, and therefore is characterized by "What if...." types of statements.
Excessive worry is typically difficult to stop, or is experienced as if it is out of control. At times, one might try to resist worrying because it seems excessive or abnormal. At other times one might feel that the cessation of worrying itself might cause something terrible to happen, as if the worrying serves a protective or even superstitious function. Sometimes people who are chronic worriers report that they become nervous if things seem to be going well in their lives, as if they are experiencing the "quiet before a storm." In other words, worrying becomes a habit unto itself, even if there is nothing specific to worry about.
The second core feature of generalized anxiety is a generally high level of physical tension, nervousness, or a feeling of being "uptight or "high-strung." The physical tension is likely to result from excessive and chronic worrying. In turn, one is more prone to worrying when feeling physically tense, creating a vicious cycle in which the high level of physical tension and excessive worrying feed off each other. Physical tension produces a variety of symptoms, such as muscular tension and soreness, headaches, difficulty sleeping, poor concentration, diarrhea and frequent urination, or feeling restless and general difficulty relaxing.
To be diagnosed with GAD, one must spend at least six months in a state of excessive worry over everyday problems. GAD often occurs along with other conditions, like depression, substance abuse, or other anxiety disorders.