Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause you to feel overwhelmed and anxious on a regular basis. Discover the symptoms of the condition and the best ways to manage it.

What is generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder is a condition in which you feel anxious and uncomfortable about lots of things, often without any clear explanation.

Many of us have worries about new jobs, work deadlines and health check-ups, which is perfectly normal. If you have generalised anxiety disorder, you may have these feelings on a more permanent basis, and find it very hard to control. This has an impact on day-to-day activities.

Anxiety can be part of many other conditions such as phobias, OCD and panic disorder.

What are the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder?

People with an anxiety disorder may experience symptoms slightly differently. The most common symptoms of anxiety disorders include:

  • Heart palpitations

  • Feeling restless 

  • Feeling tired 

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Being unable to relax

  • Sleep problems

  • Nausea

  • Having panic attacks 

  • Tummy aches 

  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy 

  • Sweating 

  • Needing the toilet more or less 

There will also be symptoms that relate more to how you feel, which may include:

  • Nervousness

  • Feelings of dread 

  • Low mood 

  • Feeling indecisive

  • Worry about worrying 

  • Feeling distant from reality

  • Feeling like every outcome will be the worst case scenario

As a result, severe generalised anxiety disorder can make you avoid situations. This may have an effect on you:

  • Managing your job

  • Exercising and eating well

  • Maintaining relationships

What are the complications of generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder can lead to other health issues such as:

How common is generalised anxiety disorder?

Estimates suggest up to 5% of the population in the UK is affected by generalised anxiety disorder.

Generalised anxiety disorder in children

Generalised anxiety disorder in children is very similar to adults. In children, GAD is most likely identified by worries about school performance, family dynamics, friendships and past behaviour.

As with adults, children are going to worry about these things to some extent, but if the worry stops them engaging in activities, it’s worth speaking to a GP.

The treatment in children and teens is similar but usually more family-based, which gives the child more support at home.

Who is at risk of generalised anxiety disorder?

Anyone can have generalised anxiety disorder, but it’s more common in women than men. Other factors that increase your risk are:

  • Experience of a traumatic event

  • A family history of the condition

  • Having a long-term health condition

  • Excessive drinking or drug taking

  • Being between 35 and 60

What causes generalised anxiety disorder?

The cause of generalised anxiety disorder has not been determined, though scientists have suggested it’s likely caused by genetic and environmental factors. These may include:

  • Genetics or a family history of anxiety-related disorders 

  • Changes in brain chemicals 

  • Having experienced a traumatic event 

  • Having more activity in parts of your brain involved in emotional regulation

  • Living with a long-term health condition

  • Excessive drinking or drug taking

How long does generalised anxiety disorder last?

Generalised anxiety disorder is a long-term condition and can last for many years. Within this time, the condition can be controlled with treatment to make daily living more manageable.

How is generalised anxiety disorder diagnosed?

To be able to diagnose generalised anxiety disorder, a doctor will ask you some questions about how you are feeling and what symptoms you’ve been experiencing. 

You may also be asked to have a physical exam or test to rule out any other medical conditions. These tests may include:

  • Blood test 

  • Urine test

How to treat generalised anxiety disorder

Treatment for generalised anxiety disorder can be different for everyone. There are a few strategies to help cope with the condition. This includes:

  • Generalised anxiety medications – for example, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – this can help you change the way you look at things

  • Relaxation techniques – for example, mindfulness or meditation

When should I seek help?

If you feel your anxiousness is getting in the way of daily activities, get in contact with Livi a GP about ways of managing your condition.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi