What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and how does it develop?

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Generalized Anxiety Disorder is less intense moment by moment than PTSD. Unlike PTSD, it is not able to be traced back to any single incident as the cause. It is usually the result of a build-up of several untoward things that have each been stressing the person a bit.

These have been adding themselves day by day, week by week, to a growing pile of stress (raised negative arousal). Since none is very significant by itself, none of them are dealt with.

Imagine that we each store our worries and anxieties in a rucksack which is permanently attached to our backs. Life will from time to time add an anxiety package to the rucksack. If we take each one out, unwrap it and deal with it as it gets put in there then that little anxiety parcel gets removed and the weight of the rucksack lightens.

small parcels of worry

If, on the other hand, each parcel is only a very small one, we don't always bother to sort it because we aren't really aware of the extra weight it creates, so we leave it in the rucksack and just carry on.

But each of these small, unwrapped anxiety packages does have some weight, and when they start to pile up they slowly start to be felt. But because none of them is terribly important on its own, we don't notice the load getting heavier and heavier. Or we may notice it but because we can't identify exactly what is causing it, we ignore it. But the rucksack is heavy and it causes us to struggle with doing everyday things.

What are the Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

The ways in which the symptoms present vary from person to person. The one consistent feature is the tendency to worry excessively about various everyday events.

This worrier may also have sleep problems, poor concentration, reluctance to socialize, or other such difficulties.

When we worry we cause our arousal to increase. Since worrying is not usually done for pleasure, this increased arousal will be negative. As such it will trigger the survival instinct to act.

When the survival instinct kicks in it tends to focus awareness on the danger or on what it thinks is the danger.

Thus the sufferer gets impaired concentration for other things. Since it believes there is danger it will also try and stop the person sleeping. So insomnia or a disturbed sleep pattern result.

In order to overcome this disorder the sufferer must learn that :

1. Worry is a bad habit. It prevents the worrier enjoying a normal life and it doesn't actually do anything by way of solving whatever the person is worrying about. 

2. The worrier must become aware of when they are worrying, because until we become aware when we are actually doing something unhelpful, we can't hope to change our responses. 

3. Finally they must learn techniques for responding to the anxiety triggers so as to gradually teach the survival instinct that these are no longer relevant.

This is a very general outline of the way in which this disorder can be overcome. Individual sufferers may have variations on the symptoms described here which may need more specific advice from their own health professional.

My aim is just to give an outline of the theory behind treatment and with it a sense that it is possible to make progress and so reduce any feelings of hopelessness and helplessness which often arise when anxiety disorders take hold.

"Overcoming Anxiety the Feelgood Way"
Online video course to do in your own home at your own pace,

By gradually changing they way in which they view life, an anxiety sufferer can start to reduce their symptoms and their feelings of stress. 

An approach which has proved very effective in this respect in recent years is that of Mindfulness.

The method described on this website, and entitled the Feelgood Way, incorporates a mindfulness-based approach as well as introducing many simple techniques which, if used in daily life, can help to reduce stress and anxiety tendencies.

  1. Overcoming Anxiety
  2. Anxiety Disorders
  3. GAD