Generalized anxiety disorder symptoms and ADHD women

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a common mental health condition often seen co-occurring with ADHD, particularly in women. This article aims to provide a comprehensive overview of GAD, its symptoms, its common occurrence with ADHD, and the treatment options available.

Understanding Worry and Anxiety

Worry is the thinking component of anxiety, comprised of specific thoughts that accompany anxiety, such as ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘Something terrible is going to happen’. Anxiety, on the other hand, encompasses thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behaviors associated with a perceived threat.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms

GAD manifests through a variety of symptoms, broadly categorized into behavioral, physical, and mental manifestations.

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Individuals with GAD often find it hard to concentrate due to their preoccupation with worry.
  • Avoidance Behaviors: Avoiding situations or things that cause worry is a common coping mechanism for managing anxiety triggers.
  • Pessimistic Worldview: People with GAD often view situations with increased fear and distrust.

Physical Symptoms

  • Autonomic Arousal: Core symptom of GAD, involves feeling hypervigilant, hyperactive, or keyed up.
  • Muscle Tension: Constant worry and agitation prevent resting and relaxing, leading to muscle tension.
  • Sleeplessness: Difficulty in sleeping is common in GAD, leading to irritability and mood fluctuations.

Mental Symptoms

  • Constant Worry: Individuals with GAD constantly focus on and worry about the future.

Co-occurrence of GAD with Other Disorders

It is essential to note that almost everyone with GAD has a secondary diagnosis of another anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, or medical condition.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ADHD in Women

Women dealing with ADHD often find themselves battling GAD as well. The constant state of worry deprives them of living and enjoying the present moment, and this is exacerbated in women with co-occurring ADHD.

Diagnostic Criteria for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The two primary diagnostic manuals, DSM V and ICD 11, have different criteria for GAD, making it hard to study and get accurate information about it.

DSM V Criteria

  1. Excessive anxiety or worry.
  2. Difficult to control worry.
  3. More days than not for at least 6 months.
  4. At least 3 out of 6 symptoms: restlessness, easy fatigability, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, sleep disturbance.
  5. Anxiety or worry not better explained by another mental disorder.

ICD 11 Criteria

  1. Marked symptoms of anxiety accompanied by either general apprehension or worry focused on multiple everyday events.
  2. More days than not for at least several months.
  3. Unspecified number of symptoms.
  4. Significant distress or significant impairment in functioning.
  5. Additional symptom such as muscular tension, motor restlessness, autonomic overactivity, difficulty maintaining concentration, irritability, or sleep disturbance.

Physical Impact of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

GAD sufferers often feel physically tired due to constant worry and agitation. This constant physical discomfort and sleeplessness can lead to irritability and mood fluctuations.

Behavioral and Thought Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

People with GAD, especially women with co-occurring ADHD, often have difficulty concentrating due to their preoccupation with worry. Contrary to the belief that worry might help prevent tragedies or promote success, worry can actually be debilitating, preventing individuals from performing their best.

Behavioral Avoidance

Women with GAD and ADHD often avoid things that cause them worry. This avoidance is a common coping mechanism for managing anxiety triggers but can lead to a cycle of worry and avoidance that is hard to break.

Treatment for Generalized Anxiety

Treatment for GAD focuses on addressing all these issues, often involving a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes.

Note: Proceed with caution with ADHD women when using CBT to treat anxiety. Accommodations in the environment should always be explored as harmful and unrealistic expectations on neurodivergent individuals often are what produces anxiety and when eliminated can produce or eliminate symptoms. 

Other Mental Health Tips for Women Related to Generalized Anxiety Disorder

There are several related topics that may be helpful for women dealing with GAD:

  • Breathing and generalized anxiety disorder
  • Menopause and generalized anxiety disorder
  • The brain and anxiety
  • … (list other topics as required)


Crocq MA. The history of generalized anxiety disorder as a diagnostic category. Dialogues Clin Neuroscience 2017;19(2):107-116. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/macrocq

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.

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Treatment for generalized anxiety focuses on all of these issues!

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Crocq MA. The history of generalized anxiety disorder as a diagnostic category. Dialogues Clin Neuroscience 2017;19(2):107-116. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2017.19.2/macrocq

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