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Do you struggle with worrying about many different things? We all worry sometimes, but if you have widespread anxiety that affects your quality of life, you may want to seek help. Here we explain what generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is and how to move forward.

What is GAD, or generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterised by worry and anxiety in a variety of situations. People with GAD experience persistent worry about things, such as work, family life, health, finances and everyday situations, unlike specific anxiety disorders where people worry about only one thing or area, such as social phobia or separation anxiety.

GAD is one of the most common anxiety disorders in Ireland, affecting between 2% and 8% of the population. It can start at any time in life from childhood to adulthood.

Causes of generalised anxiety disorder

The cause of GAD is an interaction of several different factors. There is a hereditary component; if you have a family member with the syndrome, there is a risk of developing the condition yourself.

Biological factors such as imbalances in serotonin and noradrenaline can also contribute to its development. Environmental factors also have an impact, where both upbringing and life events can have an impact. Stressful life events such as abuse, trauma, loss, divorce or unemployment can all contribute in different ways to increased anxiety.

Growing up with bullying, overprotective parents or family conflicts can also contribute to GAD. If you have a close relative who also has the diagnosis, you can also model their behavior. Thus, there are several factors that have an impact.

It is possible to get help with GAD

It is possible to treat GAD and at Lavendla we have both licensed psychologists and qualified therapists who can help you with the condition. Read more about what treatment entails below.

Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder

GAD is characterised by worrying about many different things that affect your life in a negative way. Here are some of the symptoms:

  1. Excessive and uncontrolled worry: Constant worrying about different aspects of life, even when there is no clear reason for it.
  2. Physical symptoms: Muscle pain, tension, headaches, fatigue, difficulty relaxing, sweating, restlessness, and stomach problems.
  3. Sleep problems: Difficulty falling asleep or sleeping through the night due to anxious thoughts.
  4. Irritability: May often feel irritable or nervous.
  5. Control behaviors: When worried, you may try to control and double-check events in a way that takes time and does not help you in life.
  6. Impact on relationships: If you have a lot of anxiety, you may, for example, ask a lot of questions and seek reassurance from those around you in other ways, which can be detrimental to relationships.

If you recognise these symptoms, you should seek treatment to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Treatment of generalised anxiety disorder

Treatment for generalised anxiety disorder often involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Here are some of the most common treatment methods:

  • Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective forms of therapy. CBT helps individuals to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to anxiety and to develop other approaches that lead to improved well-being. Various anxiety management tools such as worry diaries, worry time and mindfulness can be used to address the problem. There are also newer forms of cognitive therapy such as metacognitive therapy, which has been shown to have good results for generalised anxiety.
  • Medication: Drug treatment can include the use of antidepressants. These drugs can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety symptoms. Sometimes doctors may also prescribe anti-anxiety medications, but these are usually used in the short term because of the risk of addiction.

It is important to remember that treatment for GAD is individual, and what works best can vary from person to person. Treatment for GAD can vary in time depending on the severity, with milder symptoms requiring shorter treatment than more severe symptoms. At the beginning of treatment, an assessment is always made to see what might be most helpful.

A first step in seeking help

If you recognise the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder, it is good to seek help. It is possible to improve your quality of life and we offer access to psychologists and therapists who are ready to support you through your journey. We make the hard things easier.

12 common questions and answers about generalised anxiety disorder

What is generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterised by worry and anxiety in a variety of situations, such as work, family life, health, finances or everyday situations,

What are the symptoms of GAD?

The symptoms of GAD include excessive and uncontrolled worry, physical symptoms such as pain, tension and fatigue, among others. You may have sleep problems, become irritable and engage in various controlling behaviors that affect relationships.

Can generalised anxiety disorder lead to depression?

GAD can contribute to the development of depressive symptoms if left untreated for a long time. People may start avoiding things because of their anxiety and become more depressed. A psychologist or therapist can offer support and strategies to deal with these feelings.

What causes generalised anxiety disorder?

The cause of GAD is an interaction of several different factors such as heredity, biology, environment, life events and childhood circumstances. It is thus a condition that has multiple causes.

Can generalised anxiety disorder be treated?

Treatment for generalised anxiety disorder often involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. There is help available.

What is cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based therapy that helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to anxiety. Various anxiety management tools such as worry diaries and worry time can be used to address the problem.

What is metacognitive therapy?

Metacognitive therapy is an evidence-based treatment that has been shown to be effective for conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder.

Is generalised anxiety more common among men or women?

Generalised anxiety disorder is twice as common in women than men.

Can physical activity help reduce generalised anxiety disorder?

Yes, physical activity can be helpful in reducing anxiety but treatment may also be needed. Regular exercise promotes psychological well-being by releasing endorphins, improving sleep quality and reducing stress so it affects quality of life.

What is the difference between specific and general anxiety?

In specific anxiety, you have fears related to specific situations or events, such as social phobia or arachnophobia. With GAD, you have anxiety in many different situations.

Where can I go if I need help?

Through our site you can book an initial session with a therapist or psychologist to describe your problems and start planning a treatment. We will help you make the difficult things easier.

Step-by-step treatment for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Here we walk you through how the treatment of generalised anxiety disorder could be based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). There is help available and this gives you an idea of the steps you can take:

Assessment of symptoms

The first step is for a licensed psychologist or qualified therapist to help you evaluate your situation and history. You may also be asked to fill in assessment forms.

Psychoeducation and objectives

You will learn about your anxiety and how it affects you both physically and psychologically. They work on analysing situations and also set goals for treatment.

Tools for changing behaviors and patterns

You will work on identifying and changing patterns of thinking that are linked to your anxiety. Together with your therapist, you can work with tools such as a worry diary, worry time and mindfulness. You will be given homework to practice between sessions.

Follow up and evaluate progress

You will have support from your psychologist throughout the process. At the end of the treatment, you will also receive a plan to continue practicing and maintain your progress over time.

Feel free to book a first session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists to see how we can help you. We make the hard things easier.

Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.