Everyone worries about things at times, however, if you experiencing uncomfortable intrusive thoughts and/or strong, persistent and excessive worry, particularly about things that in the past would have seemed unrealistic to you, then you may be experiencing symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is a potentially debilitating problem which affects about 5% of Australians. The principal symptom of GAD is persistent intrusive thoughts and worry often leading to feeling panicky and ultimately depressed and/or fearful that you will lose control and do something that you don't want to do. Usually we are able to dismiss our worries without too much difficulty, but if GAD develops worries persistently re-appear causing intense frustration and anxiety. When this occurs trying to push away worries through techniques such as distraction often only makes the anxiety worse. Fortunately having the right information and using the right strategies to fight the symptoms of GAD can provide long lasting relief.
As well as the excessive unrealistic worrying and anxiety, other symptoms of GAD can include:
* persistent unwanted intrusive thoughts
* excessive worry
* easily fatigued
* difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
* muscle tension
* disturbed sleep
How Did I Develop GAD? Although GAD does tend to run in families the weight of evidence to date indicates that it is learned rather than genetically transmitted. GAD sufferers typically learn responses (usually without realising it) to the environment when they are very young, from those close to them, which predisposes them to develop GAD and/or other anxiety disorders later in life. Like all anxiety disorders GAD relates fundamentally to the flight or flight response (see page to read more about the fight or flight response) having been triggered at some point, only for GAD worry thoughts become attached to the response. When GAD starts to develop worries take on added significance and begin to trigger physical responses such as muscle tension, flushing, sleep problems, lightheadedness, shaking, heart racing, nausea etc. Often GAD sufferers become worried that they may harm someone, or that they will become psychotic and lose control over their actions. They then typically attempt to push the unpleasant thoughts out of their minds and avoid any situation which may trigger them. This approach, while sometimes seeming to work initially, typically leads to the worries returning with added frequency and strength.
As the worry grows the GAD sufferer usually seeks reassurance from family, health professionals and other sources (such as the internet) that the things that they are worrying about won't happen. Often in seeking reassurance they obtain unwanted information which makes them worry more. If however, they obtain good reassurance they feel a little more relaxed for a while but their need to seek reassurance tends to grow. This can lead to a pattern of frequent reassurance seeking which typically also causes the disorder to grow. Often the GAD sufferer seemingly logically feels that if they keep thinking of ways to avoid the feared event from occurring, that they will protect themselves from the worry coming true. This action also typically maintains the GAD symptoms causing them to grow over time as worry almost seems to become a form of protection.
What Can I do About GAD? Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is the best evidenced treatment for GAD (click here for more about CBT). A standard CBT program for GAD usually requires about 10 visits to a psychologist. The treatment is skills and knowledge focused and involves developing new understanding and techniques which you then apply over time to eliminate the unwanted symptoms. The best thing about using this approach is that the changes you experience are long lasting and typically lead to full recovery over a relatively short period of time. As most GAD sufferers realise, techniques such as avoiding anxiety producing situations, or thoughts, and keeping busy or distracted (even distraction through attempting relaxation techniques) only provide temporary relief at best and you are usually left with a sense of the anxiety always looming in the background waiting to pounce.
If you think you may be experiencing GAD the first step is to see your doctor about obtaining an accurate assessment of your symptoms from a psychologist in your area. Preferably this would be a psychologist who specialises in the treatment of anxiety disorders. In most cases you can also refer yourself directly to a psychologist for an assessment and treatment by contacting the staff at this centre, or by contacting the Australian Psychological Society (see APS psychologists link below) for a referral to a psychologist in your area.
What About Medication? People are often prescribed some form of medication for anxiety by their doctor prior to seeking help from a psychologist. At times medication use may be indicated, particularly if your level of anxiety is so high that you are unable to successfully engage in CBT with your psychologist. At these times medication can help in reducing the physical symptoms associated with strong anxiety, but it is now widely recognised that medication in itself is not a cure for anxiety. In order to eliminate unnecessary anxiety completely it is essential that you obtain the knowledge and skills to counter it. Typically, elimination of the need for medication is an achievable part of completing a CBT program for anxiety. It is important to remember however, that any changes to your medication must first be discussed with your doctor.
Remember: You do not need to learn to live with the symptoms of GAD and there is a way that you can stop unwanted intrusve thoughts and excessive worry permananetly.. The techniques needed are not something that the typical individual would logically think of and often even helping professionals will not have the right training and skill to achieve the desired result. GAD is a problem which can occur for almost anybody under the right circumstances and experiencing the symptoms of GAD doesn't mean that there is something wrong with your brain, or that you are doomed to lose control or worry excessively forever. Excellent treatment is now available for GAD and full recovery is usually achievable in the short term, typically without the need for medication. If you would like to know more about how our confidential individual treatment programs may be able to help you, click on contact us to arrange to talk with one of our psychologists.
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