Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

What is anxiety?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something we all feel, it is our body’s response to a stressful or dangerous situation, an instinctive reaction that we all experience at one point or another.

Anxiety becomes problematic, however, when we are not able to manage it, control it or harness it, when it gets in the way of us doing things that we want to do or when we spend our lives fearing it and/or avoiding it.

According to the DWP, we would consider anxiety to be a problem when it is

  • Disproportionate to the severity of the stress,
  • Continues after the stressor has gone,
  • Or occurs in the absence of any external stressful event

This means a ‘disorder’ exists when anxiety is present at levels that are not on a par with our situation, but are instead causing a problem in day-to-day life. See our Anxiety - What Is Anxiety page for more.

What is generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)?

GAD sufferers will feel disproportionate fear and worry over situations, meaning the amount of concern they have will far outweigh the real danger of the situation. This is usually present for a longer period of time than other anxiety disorders and is more ‘general’ - not having a ‘specific’ focus (like a phobia will have).

Individuals will have excessive worry over a variety of  ‘everyday’ situations, such as:

  • Relationships
  • Money
  • Health
  • Death
  • Even fear itself

This can create difficulties in many areas and life can become a day to day battle.

If you feel that anxiety is affecting you in this way, you are not alone and there is much that can be done. See our No More Panic page for some useful hints and tips.

Symptoms of GAD

Anxiety itself can produce both physical and psychological symptoms and GAD can have more general symptoms as a result of ‘longer lasting’ anxiety and stress. Please see below:

Physical symptoms of acute anxiety include:

  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Pains/tightening in chest
  • Shallow breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweaty palms
  • Stomach discomfort/pain
  • Nausea
  • Increased bowel movements/Diarrhoea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and tiredness
  • Hypersensitivity (sights/sounds appear different perhaps louder/intensified)
  • Pins and needles
  • Tense aching muscles especially in the shoulders/chest and/or abdomen
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating (which may have a different smell)
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urinating
  • Insomnia – sleep difficulties
  • Shaking
  • Headache

These symptoms could indicate an anxiety disorder or another medical condition; these should always be discussed with your GP.

For a complete academic guide to signs and symptoms of anxiety Anxiety as Symptom and Signal comes recommended.

Psychological and behavioural symptoms of acute anxiety include:

  • Intense fear
  • Fear you are ‘going mad’
  • Restlessness, fidgeting, inability to concentrate
  • Sense of impending danger
  • Nervousness feeling ‘on edge’
  • Impatience
  • Irritability
  • Being easily distracted
  • Sleep difficulties – Insomnia
  • Detachment from surroundings

Symptoms that may be present as a result of longer term/General anxiety:

  • Fatigue
  • Fidgeting
  • Shyness/a withdrawing from social activities/hobbies
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Irregular/missed periods
  • IBS
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating/easily distracted by anxiety
  • Hot flashes

There are more symptoms that may be a result of cumulative stress or long term anxiety symptoms, if you have any symptoms that concern you, please see your GP as they will be able to take into account your own personal circumstances.

Diagnosis GAD

Generalised Anxiety Disorder has distinct characteristics and usually:

  • Is present for 6 months or more
  • Symptoms will be persistent and ongoing (occurring more days than not)
  • Symptoms can present themselves more slowly than in most other anxiety disorders, cumulating and progressing over time
  • GAD will often get worse at times of stress
  • The sufferer will have trouble controlling the anxiety experienced
  • The anxiety are associated with at least three of the following symptoms
  1. Feeling on edge/restlessness
  2. Easily fatigued/getting over tired doing simple tasks
  3. Mind going blank/forgetfulness/difficulty concentrating
  4. Irritability
  5. Muscle tension

  6. Sleep disturbance (usually under sleeping; having difficulty falling/staying asleep - insomnia)
  • The anxiety experienced is not linked to a specific cause for example a phobia
  • The anxiety is causing difficulty in areas of day to day life

If you feel that anxiety is affecting you in this way, you are not alone and there is much that can be done.

Coping with GAD

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been seen to be one of the most effective ways of treating GAD, especially in the long term. This has even been shown to give more positive results and outcome than medication for the majority – however individuals vary so please always check symptoms and treatment options with your own healthcare provider.

You may want to try 50 Things You Can Do To Manage Anxiety for very simple and clear instructions of how to pro-actively manage your anxiety.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a talking therapy that aims to solve dysfunctional or unbalanced emotions and behaviours. CBT includes a variety of different approaches but usually it will involve challenging problematic or unrealistic beliefs and behaviours. This is usually done over a set period of time by gradually facing activities, objects or situations that may have been avoided.

CBT aims to teach the patient new ways of thinking and reacting by reducing fear and enforcing positive, healthy ways of behaving. We look at this in more detail on our Anxiety Treatment page.


Medications generally prescribed for anxiety include Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) these include Fluoxetine, Citalopram and Sertraline, and Benzodiazepines. Sleeping tablets, tranquillisers and sedatives (including Benzodiazepines) may be used as a short-term solution, while SSRI’s may be longer-term. Please see our Anxiety Treatment page for more information.

Natural herbal remedies such as Nelsons Bach Rescue Remedy Dropper 20ml have been said to help some people.


There are lots of ways you can help yourself reduce your anxiety. Reading, getting as much quality information about anxiety as possible can help you understand your condition. Please see our page on No More Panic for some great pro-active hints, tips and advice.

Friends and family support

Friends and family of sufferers often feel powerless, but there is a lot we can do to support someone with anxiety. Please see our section on this on our ‘Anxiety - What Is Anxiety’ page.

Recommended resources


SANEline is open every day of the year from 6pm to 11pm

0845 767 8000

Anxiety, further help

We hope you have found this information useful, please also see

What Is Anxiety
Fight or Flight
Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety Disorders
Coping with Anxiety
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Panic Attacks
No More Panic
Anxiety Treatment
Anxiety Management
Managing Stress
Anxiety and Debt
Social Anxiety
Anxiety as a Result of Domestic Abuse
Work Related Stress
Anxiety and Substance Abuse

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