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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive anxiety, nervousness and worry about a number of non-specific events and activities. Unlike phobias where the source of anxiety is a particular place, object or situation, GAD does not have a such a clearly identifiable source. With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the person is overcome by worrisome and anxiety-provoking thoughts as well as physical reactions that are very difficult to control and tend to interfere with everyday work, school, social functions and tasks. Persons with GAD tend to worry about everyday routine circumstances such as job responsibilities, health and finances, the health and well-being of family members, misfortune to their children and other matters such as being late for appointments and doing household chores.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder can be differentiated from what we would call “normal” everyday worrying. For example, worries associated with GAD are excessive and typically interfere significantly with psychosocial functioning whereas everyday worries are not that excessive and are more manageable and can be set aside when more pressing matters arise. Additionally, worries associated with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are more pervasive and pronounced compared with those of everyday “normal” worries. They also have a longer duration and often occur without any specific trigger. Finally, everyday worries are not typically associated with the physical symptoms that are observed in GAD (e.g., feeling keyed-up, abdominal distress, gastro-intestinal difficulties, muscle tension and being easily fatigued).

Specific symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder include, but are not limited to:

  • Restlessness or feeling keyed-up or on edge
  • Being easily fatigued
  • Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Gastro-intestinal difficulties and other abdominal distress
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling asleep, restless or unsatisfying sleep)

Persons with Generalized Anxiety Disorder typically recall having been anxious for all of their lives and tend to describe themselves as always having been anxious and nervous. They tend to spend much of their time thinking about their anxiety and wondering about its source of origin. Understandably, the unknown source of this anxiety can be very confusing and frustrating.

As with many of the other anxiety disorders, GAD is well-treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Psychodynamic and other Insight-Oriented approaches are also very useful in elucidating the psychological origins of GAD.


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