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Generalised anxiety disorder occurs when a person worries so excessively and uncontrollably that it starts to affect their life. Around 1 in 5 young women and 1 in 10 young men aged 16–25 years experience an anxiety condition.

This can help if you:

  • spend a lot of time worrying about anything and everything
  • feel like you can’t control how much you worry
  • have trouble sleeping or concentrating because you worry so much.
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What is generalised anxiety disorder?

Most people feel anxious occasionally and worry about things such as school, work, family, friends and the future. When faced with stressful situations, such as a job interview or a sports competition, this sort of anxiety can be helpful in keeping us focused and alert. Worries like these vary in intensity and don’t affect our quality of life.

There will also inevitably be times in our lives when we worry even more than usual, such as when someone we care about is unwell or we’re going through a tough time.

People with generalised anxiety disorder tend to feel anxious and worry excessively most of the time, and not just in specific stressful situations. Their worries are about a number of everyday life events at the same time, rather than just one or two issues, and last for prolonged periods (up to many months). Minor things like being five minutes late to an appointment or forgetting to fold the laundry can become the focus of anxiety, which becomes uncontrollable and affects their energy, concentration and sleep.

Signs and symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder

You may have generalised anxiety disorder if you have the signs and symptoms of anxiety for six months or more, and more often than not. These symptoms include:

  • feeling restless or having difficulty relaxing
  • feeling tired
  • having difficulty concentrating
  • feeling physically tense
  • having trouble sleeping
  • feeling irritable.

Get more information about the signs and symptoms of anxiety here.

What causes generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder often develops from a combination of individual and environmental factors, such as family history, personality traits, and trauma and stressful events. Unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs (such as justifying worrying because ‘it will help me prepare for a catastrophe if it happens’) only perpetuate the problem and make the anxiety worse.

Get more information about the causes of anxiety here.

What treatment is available for generalised anxiety disorder?

If you believe you worry too much and it has started to affect your day-to-day life, talk to a GP, who can then refer you to a mental health professional if needed. Generalised anxiety disorder is treatable, and seeking professional support is the first step to managing your symptoms.

The most effective generalised anxiety disorder treatment is psychological therapy – cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – which includes the following:

  • Education: learning about why you worry and feel anxious, and how it affects you.
  • Change in thinking: identifying and shifting unhelpful thinking patterns and beliefs.
  • Change in behaviour: scheduling in appropriate times to worry, rather than worrying all the time.
  • Facing your fears: gradually putting you in situations that make you anxious will help you learn to face and cope with those situations, rather than avoid or try to escape them.

Medication may also be required in some cases and is known to be effective when taken alongside psychological treatment. Learn how to manage your anxiety here, and get more information about treatments for anxiety here.

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