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Generalised anxiety disorder Content Supplied by NHS Choices
Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can affect you both physically and mentally.

How severe the symptoms are varies from person to person. Some people have only one or two symptoms, while others have many more.

You should see your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or is causing you distress.

Psychological symptoms of GAD

GAD can cause a change in your behaviour and the way you think and feel about things, resulting in symptoms such as:

  • restlessness
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling constantly "on edge"
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability

Your symptoms may cause you to withdraw from social contact (seeing your family and friends) to avoid feelings of worry and dread.

You may also find going to work difficult and stressful, and may take time off sick. These actions can make you worry even more about yourself and increase your lack of self-esteem.

Physical symptoms of GAD

GAD can also have a number of physical symptoms, including:

Anxiety triggers

If you're anxious because of a specific phobia or because of panic disorder, you'll usually know what the cause is.

For example, if you have claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), you know that being confined in a small space will trigger your anxiety.

However, if you have GAD, it may not always be clear what you're feeling anxious about. Not knowing what triggers your anxiety can intensify it and you may start to worry that there's no solution.

Diagnosing generalised anxiety disorder

See your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or is causing you distress.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can be difficult to diagnose. In some cases, it can also be difficult to distinguish from other mental health conditions, such as depression.

You may have GAD if:

  • your worrying significantly affects your daily life, including your job and social 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've felt worried nearly every day for at least six months

Talking to your GP about anxiety

Your GP may ask you questions about:

  • any physical or psychological symptoms and how long you've had them
  • your worries, fears and emotions
  • your personal life

You may find it difficult to talk about your feelings, emotions and personal life. However, it's important that your GP understands your symptoms and circumstances, so the correct diagnosis can be made.

You're most likely to be diagnosed with GAD if you've had symptoms for six months or more. Finding it difficult to manage your feelings of anxiety is also an indication that you may have the condition.

To help with the diagnosis, your GP may carry out a physical examination or blood tests to rule out other conditions that may be causing your symptoms, such as:

Self-help treatments for generalised anxiety disorder

If you have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), there are many ways to help ease the symptoms of anxiety yourself.

Try a book or online course

When you're diagnosed with GAD, your GP may recommend trying self-help treatments before having more intensive psychological therapy or medication.

This usually involves working from a book or computer programme for around six weeks or longer. In some cases, you may be closely supported by a trained therapist who you'll speak to every week or two. Some treatments only involve minimal or occasional contact with a therapist, who monitors your progress.

There are numerous books and courses that can help you learn to cope with your anxiety, but the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) only recommends trying treatments based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

CBT is a type of psychological treatment that can help you understand your condition better and how your problems, thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other. The aim of CBT-based treatments is to help you learn ways to manage your anxiety by modifying negative or unhelpful thoughts and behaviour.

Read more about self-help therapies for anxiety.

Exercise regularly

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, may help you combat stress and release tension. It also encourages your brain to release serotonin, which can improve your mood.

Examples of good aerobic exercises include:

  • walking fast or jogging
  • swimming
  • cycling
  • tennis
  • hiking
  • football or rugby
  • aerobics

You should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Moderate-intensity exercise should raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster.

Read more information and advice about:

Learn to relax

As well as regular exercise, learning how to relax is important.

You may find relaxation and breathing exercises helpful, or you may prefer activities such as yoga or pilates to help you unwind.

You can also try this five-minute audio guide to dealing with anxiety.

Avoid caffeine

Drinking too much caffeine can make you more anxious than normal. This is because caffeine can disrupt your sleep and also speed up your heartbeat. If you're tired, you're less likely to be able to control your anxious feelings.

Avoiding drinks containing caffeine - such as coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and energy drinks - may help to reduce your anxiety levels.

Read more about water, drinks and your health.

Avoid smoking and drinking

Smoking and alcohol have been shown to make anxiety worse. Only drinking alcohol in moderation or stopping smoking may help to reduce your anxiety.

To reduce the risk of harming your health:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week

Fourteen units is equivalent to six pints of average-strength beer or 10 small glasses of low-strength wine.

Read how stopping smoking can reduce your anxiety.

Read more about alcohol units and stopping smoking.

Contact support groups

Support groups can give you advice on how to manage your anxiety. They're also a good way to meet other people with similar experiences.

Examples of support groups you may find useful include:

Support groups can often arrange face-to-face meetings, where you can talk about your difficulties and problems with other people. Many support groups also provide support and guidance over the phone or in writing.

Ask your GP about local support groups for anxiety in your area, or search online for mental health information and support services near you.


 
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