Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is a form of anxiety along with phobias and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While anxiety is associated with a number of mental health issues, GAD is a recognised condition in its own right.

We all feel anxious at times but it is usually related to a specific cause or concern such as an upcoming exam or worrying about finances. The feeling normally passes once the situation has been resolved. However for some people, the feeling of anxiety has no specific trigger and it can persist for days on end. Sometimes it doesn’t go away at all.

Determining when an anxiety is ‘normal’ and when it becomes a ‘disorder’ can be difficult. Some people may simply have an anxious nature when others are quite relaxed about things. When the level of anxiety starts to have a negative impact on a person’s behaviour and daily life then it becomes a problem that needs to be dealt with.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is believed to affect around 4% of the population and is slightly more prevalent in women than men.


What causes Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

As GAD is ‘general’ by definition, it has a broad range of possible causes and symptoms. However there are several factors that are known to play a key role in its cause.

  • Genetics – Having someone in the family with an anxiety disorder makes a person 5 times more likely to also develop one.
  • Altered brain activity – The brain uses neurotransmitters to send chemical messages around the body. If these messages go astray it can affect our thought and behaviour patterns. These changes can be due to genetic pre-disposition or environmental triggers.
  • Major stress, trauma or substance abuse can all affect neurological activity.
  • Chronic health conditions such as arthritis or fibromyalgia – Persistent worry about these conditions, some medications and the conditions themselves can all affect our thought and behaviour patterns.

Sometimes there is no obvious cause of Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Simply being aware of an anxious feeling without knowing what caused it can make us even more anxious. Sometimes this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle that is difficult to break.


What are the most common symptoms?

GAD has both psychological and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person and also in their regularity and severity.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • A non-specific sense of dread.
  • A feeling of restlessness or being ‘on edge’.
  • Having constant, racing thoughts.
  • Having difficulty focusing or concentrating.
  • Experiencing invasive, worrying thoughts such as feeling something bad will happen to a loved one.
  • Feeling the need to withdraw from daily activities or social situations in order to feel less anxious.

Physical symptoms include experiencing:

  • Heart palpitations, dizziness or shortness of breath.
  • Tension headaches or possibly migraines.
  • A dry mouth.
  • Muscular aches.
  • Interrupted sleep patterns including insomnia.


What are the main treatment options?

While GAD is a long-term condition there are a number of treatment options that are highly effective and go a long way towards improving the person’s quality of life. Most people will use a combination of approaches.

The first step is to acknowledge the problem. Seeking help early greatly increases the effectiveness of treatment. Seeing your GP is often the best place to start. They can discuss your situation and talk you through the benefits and risks of each form of treatment. They can also refer you to a mental health care professional and put a team care arrangement in place for you.


This is not normally the first treatment tried, however it does provide a helpful second line of treatment. Anti-depressant medications are sometimes used to help treat anxiety symptoms.


People with Generalised Anxiety Disorder can do much to help themselves by investigating books or courses designed to manage the symptoms of anxiety. Remember to check the source of information and experience of the supplier.

Participating in therapies that promote relaxation can be very beneficial. These included guided relaxation and yoga. Mindfulness is an approach that encourages people to focus on the present moment while still being aware of the bigger picture. You can learn mindfulness techniques in local classes, online or with a trained practitioner.


Overcoming anxiety disorders can be extremely difficult on your own so many people prefer to seek the help of a professional counsellor or therapist. They will listen to your concerns and devise a customised treatment plan with you.

The most common psychological treatment is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The focus is to look at your underlying thought and belief patterns and see how they affect your behaviour. Even if you do not know what triggers your anxiety, through CBT you can learn strategies that help you cope when things become overwhelming. Putting these into action helps you to maintain some control and can help to ease the level of anxiety.

Your therapist may also invite your family to some sessions as your condition often affects them too. You may also benefit from participation in group therapy or self-help groups. Sharing your experiences with others is often a huge relief.


Why seek professional help?

Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, especially if you are in a depressed or suicidal state. Talking to friends and family may help but having the support and guidance of a professional counsellor is usually more beneficial. Therapy sessions are confidential and non-judgemental. Seeking help early gives you a greater chance of overcoming your condition and getting your life back to normal.


Where to find help

Our directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors and other therapists from around Australia. These mental health experts offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars. 

Enter your postcode or suburb into our search box to see a comprehensive list of the health care professionals near you.


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