Generalised anxiety disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is when you feel anxious and worried most of the time. These worries are intense, persistent and interfere with your everyday life.

Most people feel anxious and worried from time to time, especially when faced with stressful situations. You might feel anxious about taking an exam, speaking in public, playing competitive sport or going for a job interview. This sort of anxiety can make you feel alert and focused, helping you get things done faster or perform at your best.

If you have generalised anxiety you feel anxious and worried most of the time, not just in stressful situations. You don’t worry about one specific thing. You worry about work, health, family, financial issues and more.

Two friends supporting each other

How common is generalised anxiety?

If you have GAD you’re not alone:

  • around 6 per cent of Australians experience GAD during their lifetime
  • around 4 per cent experience GAD in any 12-month period.

Signs and symptoms of generalised anxiety

Many people feel anxious or worried. That’s an expected part of life and doesn’t necessarily mean you have an anxiety condition.

A mental health professional may diagnose GAD if:

  • you experience the symptoms listed on this page on more days than not 
  • the symptoms cause significant distress or make it hard to do everyday activities like working, studying or socialising
  • the symptoms last for at least six months.

If you have GAD you might know that you’ve had a tendency to worry for a long time. You might even describe yourself as having always been ‘a worrier’.

GAD symptom checklist

Only a GP, psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose generalised anxiety disorder. The checklist below can help you decide whether you need to take the next step and seek support.

For six months or more, on more days than not, have you:

  • felt very worried about one or more event or activity
  • found it hard to stop worrying
  • found it hard to do everyday activities because of your anxiety (for example, work, study, seeing friends and family)?

Did you answer yes to all of these questions? You might have GAD if you’ve also experienced three or more of the following:

  • felt restless or on edge
  • felt easily tired
  • had difficulty concentrating
  • felt irritable
  • had muscle tension (such as jaw pain or a sore back)
  • had trouble sleeping (including difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep)?

If you think you may have GAD we can help you find the support you need at Get mental health support.

 

Generalised anxiety in children

Children with GAD often worry about performance at school or sporting events, punctuality, natural disasters or war. They may:

  • be over-conforming
  • be a perfectionist
  • be unsure of themself
  • need to re-do tasks
  • seek regular and frequent approval and assurance from parents, teachers, siblings or friends
  • ask 'Yes but, what if…?'

More information

Find information and support for managing anxiety in children.

Other conditions related to generalised anxiety

If you have GAD you may also have other anxiety conditions such as social anxiety.

It’s also common to have both GAD and depression.

People experiencing GAD may also:

  • misuse alcohol or drugs
  • have physical health problems such as headaches or bowel complaints.

Effective treatments for generalised anxiety

Evidence-based support is available. Research shows that the most effective treatments for GAD are:

  • cognitive behaviour therapy
  • online therapies (also known as ‘e-therapies’ or ‘computer-aided psychological therapy’
  • antidepressant medication – for severe GAD.

Learn more about Treatments for anxiety.

Should I get support?

You may be feeling unsure about whether you should seek support.

Our anonymous mental health check-in can help you understand whether your anxious feelings are the kind of worries that will go away on their own, or whether it’s time to get more support to help you feel better.

It’s an evidence-based tool which asks you 10 questions about the feelings you’ve been having over the past 4 weeks. It’s sometimes called the “K10” and is widely used by GPs and mental health professionals.

Mental health check-in

Causes of generalised anxiety

Often, a combination of factors may be involved in the development of GAD. The condition tends to affect more women than men. It can occur at any time in life and is common in all age groups, including children and older people, although on average it starts around 30 years of age.

Biological factors

Some changes in brain functioning have been associated with GAD.

Family history

People with GAD often have a history of mental health conditions in their family.

This doesn’t mean that a person will definitely develop anxiety if a parent or close relative has had a mental health condition.

Stressful life events

You may be more at risk if you’ve experienced a major life change or trauma. This can include:

  • the birth of a child
  • the breakdown or loss of a close relationship
  • moving house or changing jobs
  • physical, sexual or emotional abuse
  • other traumatic childhood experiences, such as the death of or separation from a parent.

Psychological factors

Some personality traits may put a person at greater risk of GAD, including:

  • being sensitive
  • being emotional or experiencing general nervousness
  • inability to tolerate frustration
  • feeling inhibited
  • having perfectionistic tendencies.

Supporting someone else

If you’re worried about someone close to you, there are things you can do to support them.

Journey to recovery - personal stories

If you have an anxiety condition, you’re not alone.

Learn what anxiety feels like and how it can be managed.

Read and watch more personal stories about anxiety

"I thought I could outsmart my anxiety" – Colin's story

Colin shares his journey with anxiety, from trying to outsmart his condition to learning to live with it.

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I used to run from my anxiety, today I run with it – Catriona’s story

Catriona Bisset is an Olympian and the Australian record holder over 800m. But for a decade, she left the sport she loved.

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References

Beyond Blue uses statistics from trusted references and research. For a full list of references for all statistics quoted on our website, please visit Statistics.