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Generalised Anxiety Disorder

On this page: What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder? | What is the impact of Generalised Anxiety Disorder? | How does Generalised Anxiety Disorder develop? | How do you treat Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

A person is suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder when they experience worry and apprehension on more days than not for at least six months. The worry the person experiences is probably about numerous different events and activities, including concern over an accident occurring to yourself or your family or loved ones, that they may encounter problems at work or while studying, or that they will generally be unable to cope with potential difficulties. A person with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, finds it very difficult, if not impossible, to control the worry.

The worry causes symptoms of anxiety, for example, restlessness, trembling, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, lightheadedness, palpitations and breathlessness. With long standing worry the person may feel very tired, experience tension headaches and insomnia.

What is the impact of Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder has an enormous impact on the person. People with GAD report that the problem interferes very significantly with their lives.

Not surprisingly GAD is commonly associated with depression. The feelings that come with depression, such as feeling very low, not enjoying anything, having little motivation and energy, compound the worry and anxiety already experienced.

How does Generalised Anxiety Disorder develop?

We don’t really know what causes GAD. It may be a combination of a person’s innate nature, or personality, and other factors such as family relationships and early friendships. Stress can also play a part in the problem becoming worse. Further, people with GAD tend to attend to information in the outside world somewhat differently to people without GAD – people with GAD tend to look for signs that threat is imminent. It is also likely that the precise reasons for the development of the problem varies from person to person.

How do you treat Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

The research suggests that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is most useful to overcome GAD, that is to reduce anxiety levels and to maintain these changes over time..

There are three important elements to Cognitive Behavioural therapy for GAD:

  • It is important that the person learn to control the anxiety and panic so that symptoms don’t become very distressing. This also involves learning how to tolerate anxiety symptoms, learning helpful techniques to control symptoms, and building some regular relaxation into your lifestyle so that you can approach life in a more relaxed manner.
  • Similarly it is important that the person learn to control the worry by examining and challenging unhelpful self talk.
  • Gradually facing situations which are feared is also very important.

Individual work with a psychologist to implement the changes necessary to overcome the problem is also helpful.

Taken from Andrews, G., Crino, R., Hunt, C., Lampe, L. & Page, A. (1994). The Treatment of Anxiety Disorders: Clinician’s Guide and Patient Manuals. Cambridge University Press.

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