The two main treatment options for GAD are:
- psychological therapies – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and psychoanalytic therapy
- medication – such as a type of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This is only advised when the anxietyhas got out of control and the person cannot function.
Therapy for generalised anxiety disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder can have a significant effect on a person’s daily life but psychotherapy can help them to return to their routines and behaviours. The biological symptoms of GAD can be lessened but not necessarily eliminated by prescribed biological medication. Psychotherapy on the other hand, treats the anxiety disorder as a whole by addressing the cause and reasons for why the worries are there in the first place. Medication provides more of a short-term fix and comes with some side effects.
Evidence demonstrates that generalised anxiety disorder is caused predominantly but not exclusively by events and environmental factors, either past or current. However, like many health conditions, it’s caused by a complicated combination of both environmental and biological factors. External events can alter biology and the evidence as to which comes first – events that affect biology or biology that affects events – is still inconclusive. While changing biology through medication can bring short-term changes and benefits, altering thought processes and biology through psychotherapy can bring about long term changes. What’s more, the individual is only reliant on themselves and a therapist to continue with this form of treatment. They do not need to receive an ongoing prescription.
Psychoanalytic Therapy for generalised anxiety disorder
Psychoanalytic psychotherapy will produce long lasting effect in changing the biology behind generalised anxiety than medication because, with your therapist, you will find the root cause of anxiety which may be present currently or from events experienced in the past. Find out more about this approach to therapy for GAD on our psychoanalytic therapy page.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for generalised anxiety disorder
Cognitive behavioural therapy also has a more lasting effect (but not as long lasting as psychoanlytic) in treating generalised anxiety than medication. This is because the individual learns to recognise when they begin to feel anxious and can apply the knowledge they gain from their sessions to avoid negative thought cycles that exacerbate this. Individuals can learn how to accept and live meaningfully with the environmental factors through therapy or counselling.
Sometimes, stressful events are brought to a person by a third party, such as an employer or partner, but anxious feelings also emerge from people telling themselves the worst will happen. An anxiety disorder may develop without any external stimuli whatsoever. With the insights and new skills learned from cognitive behavioural therapy, psychotherapy can be a long term, preventative treatment that equips users with the tools to tackle the disorder themselves, if it rears its head again in the future.
Relaxation techniques, meditation, yoga, exercise, and other alternative treatments may also become part of a treatment plan. There are plenty of simple self-help strategies which can be adopted to reduce levels of anxiety.
Lifestyle changes for generalised anxiety disorder:
- Exercise regularly
- Stop smoking
- Reduce alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Mental health apps and tools such as Headspace and Be Mindful.
What is generalised anxiety disorder?
Generalised anxiety disorder is a long-term condition that causes people to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. It’s the feeling of being worried about almost everything and anything for no real apparent reason or reasons that are not in proportion to the amount of worry experienced. Individuals affected by GAD may feel overly anxious about topics from health to money, work and relationships, often all at the same time.
Symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. While these vary from person to person, they usually include:
- Feeling unsettled and worried – fidgeting and restless behaviour
- Reduced focus – difficulty concentrating or sleeping
- Dizziness or heart palpitations
- Stomach aches or headaches
People with generalised anxiety disorder feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. They tend to worry more than seems warranted about actual events or expect the worst even when there’s no apparent reason for concern. Sufferers of GAD may anticipate disaster and become overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it’s beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.
Do I have generalised anxiety disorder?
Generalised anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person feels anxious more frequently than they feel at ease and able to control their worries. At least three symptoms will be experienced for at least six months before a person can be diagnosed as experiencing chronic anxiety. This differentiates GAD from worry that may be specific to a set stressor or for more limited period of time.
Feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal but if anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you such distress that you are no longer able to continue with normal life activities or cope with normal responsibilities, you may need to seek help. Complete our anxiety questionnaire to find out if you are suffering from generalised anxiety disorder and how mild or severe your symptoms are.