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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?

GAD is a condition that causes you to worry more than normal. It also causes you to feel fear in most situations. You are worried or afraid even without a cause. You may worry about your health, job, money, and relationships. It is hard for you to control your worry and feel calm. GAD prevents you from doing daily activities. It may also prevent you from spending time with family and friends. Without treatment, your anxiety may get worse.

What increases my risk for GAD?

  • Family or work stress
  • A family history of an anxiety disorder
  • A medical condition, such as diabetes or depression
  • Smoking, caffeine, and alcohol or drug use
  • Being female
  • Age 20 to 30

What other signs and symptoms may occur with GAD?

  • Fatigue or muscle tightness
  • Shaking, restlessness, or irritability
  • Problems focusing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Feeling jumpy, easily startled, or dizzy
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat or shortness of breath

What do I need to tell my healthcare provider about my anxiety?

Tell your healthcare provider when your symptoms began and what triggers them. Tell your provider if anxiety affects your daily activities. Your provider will also ask about your medical history and if you have family members with a similar condition. Tell your provider about your past and present alcohol, nicotine, or drug use.

What can I do to manage anxiety?

You may get medicines to help you feel calm and relaxed, and to decrease your symptoms. Medicines are usually given together with therapy or other treatments. The following can help you manage anxiety:

  • Talk to someone about your anxiety. Your healthcare provider may suggest counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you understand and change how you react to events. It can also help you understand what triggers your symptoms. You might feel more comfortable talking with a friend or family member about your anxiety. Choose someone you know will be supportive and encouraging.
  • Keep a journal of your symptoms. Write down what you were doing before your symptoms started. Also write down what made the anxiety better or worse. Bring this journal with you to your follow-up appointments.
  • Find ways to relax. Activities such as yoga, meditation, or listening to music can help you relax. Spend time with friends, or do things you enjoy.
  • Practice deep breathing. Deep breathing can help you relax when you feel anxious. Focus on taking slow, deep breaths several times a day, or during an anxiety attack. Slowly breathe in through your nose. Pause, then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Try to breathe out longer than you breathed in.
  • Create a regular sleep routine. Regular sleep can help you feel calmer during the day. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times every day. Do not watch television or use the computer right before bed. Your room should be comfortable, dark, and quiet.
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, lean meats, fish, whole-grain breads, and cooked beans. Healthy foods can help you feel less anxious and have more energy.
    Healthy Foods
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise can increase your energy level. Exercise may also lift your mood and help you sleep better. Your healthcare provider can help you create an exercise plan.
    Walking for Exercise
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase anxiety. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not have caffeine. Caffeine can make your symptoms worse. Do not have foods or drinks that are meant to increase your energy level.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Ask your healthcare provider if alcohol is safe for you. Also ask how much is safe. You may not be able to drink alcohol if you take certain anxiety or depression medicines.
  • Do not use drugs. Drugs can make your anxiety worse. It can also make anxiety hard to manage. Talk to your healthcare provider if you use drugs and want help to quit.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You have chest pain, tightness, or heaviness that may spread to your shoulders, arms, jaw, neck, or back.
  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms get worse or do not get better with treatment.
  • You have new symptoms since your last visit.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.