What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry about a range of aspects of daily life. Worry typically comes in the form of predicting worst case scenarios or “what if…” type thinking. Everyone worries sometimes when they are in stressful situations, however, for people with GAD they feel worried or anxious most of the time. The particular themes of worry are wide reaching, but often include excessive worry about finances, safety of loved ones, health, peer relationships and work or academic performance. People with GAD often describe feeling as though their thoughts or worries are “out of control” and that their “mind is racing”, and it is common for these individuals to also worry about their worrying. GAD is associated with sleep difficulties, fatigue, muscle tension as well as a general dislike of uncertainty, need for control as well as perfectionism.
- Do you find yourself worrying excessively about a lot of different things?
- Do you experience difficulty concentrating or irritability as a result of your worry?
- Do you have trouble sleeping because of your worry? e.g. taking a long time to ‘switch off’ to get to sleep, waking often
- Do you avoid anything because of your worries e.g. holidays, driving, making decisions?
- Do you often think through many worse case scenarios to be prepared for negative outcomes?
- Do you notice physical symptoms of anxiety when you worry, such as racing heart, sweating, upset stomachs, muscle tension including frequent headaches?
How Common is Generalized Anxiety?
As noted above, everyone worries sometimes but research indicates that around 6% of the general Australian population will suffer from GAD at some point in their lifetime. Generalized anxiety is more common in females, and it can occur at any age. When diagnosed in adulthood most individuals with GAD label themselves as having been a ‘worrier’ most of their life.
What Treatments are Recommended for Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms?
Effective treatment for GAD includes medication, and also a number of psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Metacognitive Therapy (MCT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). These three treatments differ in their particular interventions, though they all aim to identify and change unhelpful thinking styles and address maintaining behaviours. CBT focuses on identifying and reframing unhelpful thinking patterns. ACT and MCT incorporate more mindfulness-based skills, focusing on disengaging and distancing from worrying thoughts through the use of skills such as detached mindfulness or cognitive defusion. All three psychological treatments also focus on reducing avoidance related to worry, also termed ‘exposure’, to assist individuals to recognise the role of over-estimation of threat and underestimation of their ability to cope.