What is Generalized Anxiety (GAD) Disorder?

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An anxiety disorder is defined as a mental disorder characterized by a feeling of excessive fear or worry. Anxiety is a normal reaction of the body to danger. However, when it is excessive, this can lead to problems with the person’s ability to engage in everyday activities and even their level of distress.

What are the symptoms associated with anxiety?

Anxiety can manifest in many ways.

  • Uncontrollable fear or worry
  • Feelings that you can’t switch off
  • Sleeping problems
  • Physical symptoms (sweating, shaking, digestion issues, headaches, tension)
  • Fatigue

Anxiety disorders are classified into different types.

This post will focus on generalized anxiety disorder. There are many types of anxiety disorders. Other common anxiety disorders include social anxiety, panic disorder, and health/illness anxieties.

The individual may experience a constant or frequent feeling of excessive worry. This can include worrying about finances, work, relationships, or even seemingly small things like who will pick up the kids or missing the bus.

The symptoms of generalized anxiety are often a flurry of worries that appear one after another.

In illness anxiety, the focus is on the fear of getting sick or ill. With generalized anxiety, the worry does not always have a focus and can occur without any obvious cause or trigger.

“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 is GAD?

According to what we now know about anxiety, it is not a single cause. Risk factors for anxiety include:

  • Genetics: Studies in families suggest anxiety could have a genetic component
  • Brain structure and activity: Some anxious people have more active brain regions.
  • Environmental factors: We all experience things that can contribute to anxiety. Difficult circumstances in life, chronic stress and trauma, loneliness, and the use of psychoactive substances can all impact anxiety levels.

How common is anxiety disorder?

According to the OECD, in 2018, just a little over 6% (or 175%) of the Irish population had an anxiety disorder. “

OECD Publishing

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

The lifetime prevalence of generalized anxiety disorder is approximately 3%. It seems that anxiety is a common problem in people’s lives. You may even know someone with an anxiety disorder.

What are the treatment options available for GAD?

The treatment of GAD with psychotherapy is quite effective. The treatment of anxiety can be effective even if people have struggled with anxiety for some time. According to a research paper entitled “Meta-Analysis of Cognitive Behavioral Treatments for generalized anxiety disorder” [3], psychotherapy is as effective or even better than medication.

You don’t have to suffer alone if you struggle with anxiety disorders. When treating your anxiety, professional mental health support is very helpful. Speak to someone today if you would like professional help with anxiety.

You can also take steps to reduce symptoms and risks. (These are not self-help methods but do not replace formal treatment.)

  • We are reducing caffeine, alcohol, and drug use.
  • Exercise is helpful
  • Practice good sleep hygiene (if possible)
  • Looking after your nutrition
  • Talk to someone about your worries or concerns.

These behavioral changes can be beneficial, although they are not standalone treatments. Caffeine levels, for example, can contribute to anxiety because they mirror the physical symptoms. Caffeine can cause an individual to experience increased heart rate, muscle tension, and difficulty sleeping.

Contact us to determine what support is available to manage and improve anxiety. Our psychologists, counselors, and psychotherapists are qualified and registered with 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. Psychological medicine.

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

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