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What Is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

An anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder that is categorized by the disproportionate feeling of fear or worry. Anxiety itself is quite normal and is the body’s natural reaction to danger, however, when these feelings are disproportionate to the situation, it can cause problems for the individual in terms of their levels of distress and their ability engage in normal everyday activities.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Someone who is experiencing anxiety may experience the following:

  • A feeling of uncontrollable worry or fear

  • Feelings of not being able to switch off

  • Problems sleeping

  • Physical symptoms (sweating, shaking, digestion issues, headaches, tension)

  • Fatigue

Different types of anxiety disorders

There are different types of anxiety disorders, but this post will cover a little more about generalised anxiety disorder. The other common types of anxiety disorders are social anxiety, panic disorder and health/illness anxiety.

With generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), the individual can experience regular or constant disproportionate worry throughout the day. This experience can apply to worrying about anything from finances, to work, to relationships, to even the seemingly smaller things such as who’s going to collect the children or missing the bus.

Generalised anxiety can often jump from one worry to another, and when the first worry has passed the next one will appear, hence why it’s termed generalised anxiety – sometimes the feelings of worry may not have a focus.

When someone experiences social anxiety, for example, social situations would be the main focus of worry; in illness anxiety the fear of being ill or catching an illness is the focus of the worry – with generalised anxiety the worry doesn’t always have a specific focus, and the feelings of anxiety can present without any obvious trigger or cause.

brain with erratic thoughts.jpg

“What normally corresponds with anxiety is maladaptive thought patterns (cognitive biases) – thoughts that may exacerbate feelings of anxiety. These include things like catastrophizing (that if something doesn’t happen a certain way, it’s a complete disaster), black and white thinking (if it’s not perfect, it’s awful) and pessimism (selectively focusing on the negatives).”

What causes GAD?

From what we know now about anxiety, there is no single cause. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Genetics: Family studies suggest that anxiety may have a genetic component

  • Brain structure/activity: Sometimes those who have anxiety will have certain brain regions that are more active than in those without anxiety

  • Environmental factors: There are evidently things that are part of our experience that may contribute to the development of anxiety. Difficult life circumstances, chronic stress, traumatic experiences, loneliness and the use of psychoactive substances can all impact levels of anxiety

How common is anxiety?

“According to the OECD in 2018, just over 6% of the Irish population have an anxiety disorder, which is 175% of the European average [1]. ”

— OECD Publishing

According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), approximately 50% of those diagnosed with anxiety also meet the criteria for depression, and vice versa.

Generalised anxiety disorder has a lifetime prevalence of approximately 3% [2]. So, it seems that many people may suffer with anxiety in their lifetime, and it’s likely you may know someone who has an anxiety disorder.

What are the treatment options for GAD?

Psychotherapy treatment outcomes for GAD are quite successful. Sometimes people struggle with their anxiety for a long time before seeking support but getting professional support has been helpful for treating anxiety. For example, psychotherapy has been shown to be equally effective or better than medication treatment, according to the research paper, “Meta-Analysis of Cognitive-Behavioral Treatments for Generalised Anxiety Disorder” [3].

There is plenty that can be done for anxiety disorders, and if you are struggling with managing an anxiety disorder, you do not have to endure that struggle alone. Professional mental health support can be really helpful when it comes to treating anxiety. If you want to get professional support on anxiety, you can speak to somebody today and take that first step to managing your anxiety.

There are also some strategies you can put in place yourself that may reduce the severity of symptoms or help reduce risk (however, these are not self-help treatments and do not replace formal treatments):

  • Reducing caffeine, alcohol, drug use.

  • Exercise can be helpful

  • Practicing good sleep hygiene (if this is possible)

  • Looking after your nutrition

  • Express yourself – talk to someone about your concerns or worries

Although these behavioural changes are not standalone treatments, they can be helpful. For example, caffeine levels can sometimes contribute to anxiety as it mirrors the physical symptoms of anxiety. An individual may experience a rise in heart rate, muscle tension, increased mental focus and difficulty sleeping from caffeine, therefore the behaviours we engage in can potentially contribute to anxiety.

If you do feel like you identify with any of the symptoms here, reach out to us today to see what supports are available to help you manage and improve your anxiety. Each of our psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors are qualified and are registered members of governing bodies.


[1] OECD/EU (2018), Health at a Glance: Europe 2018: State of Health in the EU Cycle, OECD Publishing, Paris/EU, Brussels,

[2] Baxter A, M Scott K, Vos T, Whiteford H. Global prevalence of anxiety disorders: A systematic review and meta-regression. Psychological medicine. 2012 Jul 10;43:1–14.

[3] Mitte, K. (2005). Meta-Analysis of Cognitive-Behavioral Treatments for Generalised Anxiety Disorder: A Comparison With Pharmacotherapy. Psychological Bulletin, 131(5), 785–795.

Further Reading on Anxiety

Video – What is generalised anxiety?

Anxiety Treatment Options

8 reasons why you should get help with your anxiety

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