What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is more common than you might think

Written by spunout


Anxiety is a feeling of unease, or worry that you might feel about something. It is perfectly normal for everyone to experience anxiety at some stage in their life. With Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) people may find it harder than normal to control their worry or anxiety, to the extent that it impacts a lot on their everyday life.

GAD can cause both mental and physical symptoms. People with it may feel anxious most days. These symptoms vary from person to person, but can include a wide range of things such as having trouble concentrating and being unable to sleep.

Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder

The symptoms of anxiety can vary from person to person but may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • A sense of feeling constantly on edge
  • Physical stuff like headaches, butterflies in your stomach, sweaty hands, high blood pressure, dizziness, breathing heavily or with difficulty, feeling faint, and sweating
  • Maybe you are smoking, drinking or using drugs more in an effort to escape from your life
  • Eating too much or not eating enough, fidgeting or rushing around nervously
  • You might also feel run down, tired, have problems concentrating or problems sleeping at night. Read more about getting a good night's sleep here.
  • You might feel worried all the time
  • You feel overwhelmed or panicked about even little things
  • You spend a lot of time thinking and often overthink things
  • You try to avoid things or situations that make you feel anxious

You may have GAD if:

  • Your anxiety seems to affect all aspects of your daily life including work, relationships and social life
  • Your worrying significantly affects your daily life
  • Your worries are extremely stressful and upsetting
  • You worry about all sorts of things and have a tendency to think the worst 
  • Your worrying is uncontrollable
  • You have felt worried nearly every day for at least six months

Causes of GAD

GAD affects approximately 1 in 20 adults. As with most conditions that affect mental health, the exact cause of General Anxiety Disorder is not fully understood. Some people develop the condition for no apparent reason. Others may develop GAD after a major stressful incident.

Getting help for GAD

Often, the best place to start is to talk to your GP about how you are feeling.

Visit your GP

You should visit your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life. They may ask you about your worries and about the times when you feel anxious and to describe them in detail to them.

Sometimes people find it difficult to talk about their anxieties and what makes them anxious. But try not to be nervous about it as your GP will have dealt with many people going through the same thing.

Your GP may carry out a physical examination in order to rule out anything else that may be causing your symptoms.

Find out more about talking to your GP about a mental health difficulty.

Treatment for GAD

There are a number of ways you can help your GAD. If you go to a GP they may recommend therapy, or possibly medication.

You may benefit from one of these types of treatment or a combination of the two. Before you begin any form of treatment make sure to ask your GP of the pros and cons of either treatment so you have enough information to make a decision.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

You may have been referred for psychological help such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) CBT is one of the most effective types of treatment for GAD, and works by helping you identify unhelpful and unrealistic beliefs and replace them with more helpful ones.


In some cases your GP may prescribe medication to treat your GAD. If you are considering taking medication for GAD, your GP should discuss this with you in detail, including the different types of medication available, length of treatment, side effects and possible interactions with other medicines. If you are still experiencing GAD it may be worth going back to your GP and asking to be referred to your local mental health team.

Applied relaxation

Applied relaxation is usually used to treat phobias but is now being used to treat GAD. It involves  relaxing your muscles in situations that usually cause you anxiety. It involves learning how to relax your muscles, and practicing relaxing your muscles in situations that make you anxious.

Things you can do to help yourself

There are many ways that you can manage the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder yourself. The most important is that having a healthy lifestyle can really help you manage your anxiety.


Regular exercise will help you deal with stress by allowing you to release tension. Exercise also causes the brain to release serotonin which is a hormone that can improve your mood. There are loads of different types of exercise you can take part in. Read more about fitting in 30 minutes of exercise each day.


Mindfulness is all about becoming more aware of what’s going on in the present moment, and becoming more aware of what’s going on in your own mind. There are lots of free apps, or YouTube videos which can help give you an introduction to mindfulness. Read more on mindfulness here.


What you eat or drink can really impact on your mood and how you feel. Avoid caffeine and energy drinks as they can actually make you more anxious. Read more on easy ways to get your 5-a-day here.

Cutting down on alcohol and drugs

Drinking alcohol or taking drugs can make anxiety worse. You might drink or smoke more when you are stressed and may feel that it helps. But it is in fact making it worse. To combat this, limit the amount of alcohol and drugs you take or cigarettes that you smoke. Read more on alcohol and anxiety here.

Accept that life is often uncertain

Worrying may be very familiar to you and may appear to be helpful at first as it seems like it is helping you prepare for things in advance. However worrying can be unhelpful and that’s why it can be so frustrating. Life is unpredictable and no matter how often you worry, you can never really know what will happen in the future. Focusing on the present and what you can do is much more useful. Once that you accept this you will be able to escape from the power that worry has over you.

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