Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) isn’t like the butterflies you might get in your stomach before a pitch to the big bosses. 

Neither is it like the occasional, unavoidable worries you might have about life. Instead, GAD is when anxiety ongoingly takes up an excessive part of your life. 

Often, GAD causes anxiety that’s harmful, difficult to control and interferes with daily activities. It can affect personal and professional relationships and cause you to worry uncontrollably about common occurrences and situations.

What is generalised anxiety disorder? 

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. It can develop in both adults and children.  Women are twice as likely to experience GAD as opposed to men.

Thankfully, GAD can be treated through the means of lifestyle changes, coping skills, relaxation techniques and other forms of psychotherapy. Medication can also help with managing the condition. 

Before we dive into the signs of GAD, let’s take a quick look at what makes GAD different from normal anxiousness.

How does GAD differ from normal anxiousness?

As opposed to general feelings of anxiousness, people with GAD may worry uncontrollably about things that they seemingly have no reason to worry about. 

Where you may worry about financial matters during times of financial strain, or when your bill dates are drawing near, someone with GAD may be consistently and depressedly worried about financial security even when they’re financially comfortable. 

While it’s perfectly normal to have feelings of anxiousness, you may find yourself worrying uncontrollably about your all sorts of things several times a day, over a period of months if you have GAD. 

Feelings of anxiousness in those with GAD may last for very long periods, generally for at least six months or more. 

If you have GAD,  your anxiety, worry or physical symptoms cause you significant distress in your daily life. There may be times when your worries do not completely consume you, but you still feel anxious when there’s no apparent reason. 

Here’s a table covering the key differences between GAD and normal anxiousness!

Normal anxiousnessGeneralised anxiety disorder (GAD)
– You worry about specific situations with realistic concerns, which only last for a short time of period
– You are able to control your worrying
– Your worries do not cause significant distress
– Your worrying doesn’t get in the way of your daily activities and responsibilities
– You worry uncontrollably about common occurrences 
– You worry about all sort of things and tend to expect the worst
– Your worries are extremely upsetting and stressful
– Your worry lasts for an extended period (at least six months or more)
– You worrying significantly disrupts your job, activities, or social life

What are the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder?

infographic showing the common symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder
The common symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder.

Sometimes, it can be challenging to understand and identify symptoms relating to matters of our mind. 

On the other hand, GAD has symptoms on both psychological and physical fronts. This could help to make it easier to discern if you’re suffering from GAD. 

Here are some of the common psychological symptoms of GAD.

List of psychological symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder

  • Struggling to handle uncertainty
  • Fearing about making the wrong decision
  • Persistently worrying or being anxious about things in a manner that’s disproportionate to the events
  • Reducing most situations to possible worst-case outcomes
  • Thinking of events as threatening 
  • Being unable to decide and fearful of making the wrong choice
  • Being unable to release stress and constantly feeling on edge
  • Being unable to let go of a worry
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Mind going “blank” or feeling empty

GAD can also manifest physically and can cause inconvenience to your day-to-day life. Here are some common physical symptoms sufferers experience.

List of physical symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle tension
  • Trembling and feeling twitchy
  • Fatigue
  • Nervousness
  • Being easily startled
  • Irritability
  • Perspiring
  • Stomach problems
    • Nausea
    • Diarrhoea
    • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Woman having stomach problems, a physical symptom of generalised anxiety disorder
Did you know that your mild stomach problems could be a result of GAD?

If you’ve got these psychological or physical symptoms, and think you may have GAD, get in touch with a doctor as soon as possible.

Consult with licensed Singapore clinicians anytime on MyDoc, a 24/7 personal healthcare platform.

Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder in children and teenagers

GAD may materialise differently in children and teenagers. They may worry about the safety of family members, being on time, their performance at school and catastrophic events like nuclear war or natural disasters.

GAD in children and teenagers may manifest in the following ways:

  • Perfectionism
    • Redoing tasks multiple times
    • Spending excessive time on homework
  • Anxiety to fit in
  • Lacking confidence
  • Striving for approval
  • Seeking more reassurance about performance
  • Frequent stomach aches or other physical complaints
  • Avoiding school and other social situations

What causes generalised anxiety disorder?

The cause of GAD likely arises from a complex interaction of biological and environmental factors. This may include:

1. Genetics

GAD, like some other anxiety disorders, are linked to a variety of different genes. People who have relatives with anxiety disorders and other mental illnesses may also have a higher chance of getting GAD. 

2. Stress

Recent or prolonged exposure to stressful situations can also trigger GAD. Situations such as personal or family illnesses and childhood trauma can cause your brain to get used to activating its underlying fear or fight-or-flight response. 

Similarly, severe and constant stress at work can also produce hyperactive anxiety reactions like GAD. 

Feeling stressed at work? These 15 tips can help you cope with stress at work. 

3. Excessive use of psychoactive substances

Excessive use of caffeine or tobacco can also contribute to the manifestation of GAD or worsen existing anxiety. 

Caffeine and tobacco are both stimulants that promotes the same fight-or-flight response which typically triggered in your body in response to threatening situations. 

Caffeine and tobacco could make anxiety worse. So if you’ve already got increased anxiety, it is best to avoid these substances.

What are the complications of generalised anxiety disorder?

Untreated GAD can increase your risk of more severe, even life-threatening conditions. These conditions include:

  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Physical illness (e.g. digestive or bowel problems, sleep problems and insomnia, chronic pain and illness etc)

Learn more about how to fight depression and the warning signs you should look out for.

When to see a doctor for generalised anxiety disorder

You should see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Your anxiety is interfering with your work, relationships and life
  • You’re having problems with addictive substances like alcohol and drugs
  • You have other mental health concerns
  • You have suicidal thoughts or behaviour

If you’re found to have GAD, you may be referred to mental health professionals who are well-equipped to treat you.

You may then be offered a combination of medication and cognitive-behavioural therapy. 

By getting treatment for GAD, you’ll get to feel much better by learning how to recognise and change thought patterns that trigger your anxious feelings. Speak to a doctor and start taking control of your mental wellness in a matter of minutes with MyDoc.

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