Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.
Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview.
During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal.
However, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives.
Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including:
phobias – such as agoraphobia or claustrophobia
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
However, the information in this section is about a specific condition called "generalised anxiety disorder" (GAD).
GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event.
People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.
GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person, but can include:
feeling restless or worried
having trouble concentrating or sleeping
dizziness or heart palpitations
What causes GAD?
The exact cause of GAD isn't fully understood, although it's likely that a combination of several factors plays a role.
Research has suggested that these may include:
over activity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour
an imbalance of the brain chemicals serotonin and nor adrenaline, which are involved in the control and regulation of mood
the genes you inherit from your parents – you're estimated to be 5 times more likely to develop GAD if you have a close relative with the condition
having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying
having a painful long-term health condition, such as arthritis
having a history of drug or alcohol misuse
However, many people develop GAD for no apparent reason
When to get help for anxiety
Although feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal, see your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and your worries, fears and emotions to find out if you could have GAD.
Your GP may suggest that you start medication aimed at reducing your anxiety, they may also suggest that you attend counselling.