Anxiety & Worry Explained

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Learn about the symptoms of different mental health conditions and what you can do to tackle them.

What do I do if I feel worried?

Anxiety & Worry Explained

Worry is a normal part of life, and can even be helpful in some instances. We often worry about the things that are important to us, like finances, work, and family, and this worry has the potential to help us make good decisions in these areas.

Sometimes however, worrying can become more of a hindrance than a help. If you’ve been experiencing worries that are excessive, uncontrollable, or irrational, for an extended period of time, you may be suffering from generalised anxiety disorder, or GAD.

If you feel that your worrying is out of your control, and that you need some help understanding and dealing with it, this information on worry and generalised anxiety disorder may help.

What is Anxiety?

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common and is characterised by persistent, excessive, and uncontrollable worrying about everyday events and activities.

While most people worry about things like family, work, health, and money, this kind of everyday worry doesn’t normally get in the way of everyday life. However, people with GAD find that their worry is excessive (they worry more about things than others do or “blow things out of proportion”), difficult to control, and pervasive (they worry about a lot of different things, a lot of the time). As a result, GAD can impact people’s relationships, sleep, psychological wellbeing, and work performance.

People with GAD also tend to worry a lot about the future and uncertainty and like to feel ‘in control’. Some people with GAD also worry about worrying (e.g., worrying that anxiety is bad for their health), while others believe that worrying helps them be successful, stay safe, or prevent bad things from happening.

There is a 9% chance that a person will develop generalised anxiety disorder at some point in their life, and 3% of the population will be diagnosed with GAD each year. People can develop GAD at any age, but it’s most often diagnosed in young adults who say that they’ve always been worriers. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed with GAD than men.

GAD tends to develop gradually and fluctuate in severity over time. Some people with GAD feel worried nearly all of the time, while others have periods where they feel very worried and times where they feel relatively stress-free.

What Are The Signs of Generalised Anxiety?

Psychological Symptoms

  • Excessive and persistent worry about many different things.
  • Having trouble controlling worry.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Needing to be ‘in control’
  • Excessive planning or list making.

Physical Symptoms

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  • Feeling restless and on edge.
  • Tiredness.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Nausea.
  • Feeling tense and irritable.

Please remember – only a qualified mental health professional can diagnose generalised anxiety disorder following a thorough assessment of your personal situation and circumstances. If you’re concerned about the way you’ve been feeling, please don’t delay speaking with your regular healthcare provider or check out our anonymous online test below and see if one of our online courses could help.

Not Sure Whether to Seek Help?

Take a Test to See How You Feel

If you’re unsure about the way you feel, take our anonymous online test to check whether your levels of stress, anxiety, or depression are within a healthy range, and see if one of our online courses could help.

What Causes Generalised Anxiety?

Generalised anxiety disorder isn’t caused by one specific thing; it develops from a combination of genetics, individual differences in personality, and life experiences.

There’s strong evidence that genes play an important role in the development of anxiety. Generalised anxiety disorder runs in families, and having a parent or sibling with anxiety can increase your risk of having anxiety as well.

Stressful life events also play a part in the development of anxiety and depression. Stressful situations like unemployment, illness, childbirth, divorce, financial insecurity, moving, retirement, or starting a new job can have a significant impact on your mental health. Ongoing conflicts with others, loneliness, and the loss of someone or something important can also take their toll on our well-being.

Your personality structure can also influence how you feel. For example, being self-critical or perfectionistic, setting high standards for yourself, or being a ‘worrier’ can increase your risk of developing anxiety.

Another caused that should not be overlooked include physical illness, substances, and medications. Glandular fever, influenza, hepatitis, thyroid hormones, anaemia, diabetes, birth control pills, alcohol and other substances of abuse, or other medications such as those for heart or blood pressure conditions, may all cause symptoms of anxiety.

Did you know…

Mixed Anxiety & Depression Explained

Anxiety and depression have similar causes and some people can experience symptoms of both conditions at the same time. If you’ve been experiencing both low mood and persistent worry, tension, and unease, click below to learn more about the relationship between anxiety and depression.

How To Deal With Generalised Anxiety & Excessive Worry

There are many effective treatments for generalised anxiety disorder, including psychoeducation, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and medication.

Psychoeducation refers to learning about how anxiety develops, and what keeps it going. This kind of information is extremely valuable. This knowledge base can potentially give someone greater control over his or her disorder, which can, in turn, reduce feelings of uncertainty and helplessness, and increase a sense of well-being. Providing education for families or carers is also helps them offer support.

The most important pieces of information for a person with anxiety are:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder is very common
  • It is not a sign of weakness
  • Treatment is effective, and there are many treatment options available. There is a suitable treatment for most people.
  • Recovery is the rule, not the exception

CBT is an excellent treatment for anxiety, alone or in conjunction with medication. CBT involves learning skills to:

  • Combat the negative thoughts that characterise generalised anxiety disorder
  • Manage the emotions of fear, guilt, and dread that are common in anxiety
  • Re-engage in activities you may have stopped doing because of anxiety

CBT will often be recommended when:

  • The person has found CBT helpful in the past.
  • The person wants to take an active role in their recovery.
  • The person wants to learn skills to help them get well and stay well.
  • A competent, trained clinician who has expertise in CBT is available, or the person is prepared to use internet CBT (iCBT)
  • The person does not want to take medication or there is a medical reason that they cannot take antidepressant medications.
  • The person prefers CBT or iCBT.

For some people, medication will be the first line of treatment for anxiety. Although these medications are, somewhat confusingly, called ‘antidepressants’, they are effective for treating anxiety disorders.

Medication is generally recommended if someone is experiencing very intense worry, especially if they are too worried to try CBT. Antidepressant medications aren’t generally recommended as a first-line treatment for mild anxiety.

Different antidepressant medications work in different ways. You may need to trial more than one type to find the medication that works best for you. Make sure to keep in close contact with your prescribing physician during the early stages of taking medications the side effects can often be difficult to deal with.

Some things to remember when taking these medications are:

  • Take the medication as prescribed.
  • Don’t stop the medication without contacting the health professional who prescribed it.
  • Side effects lessen as your body adjusts. If the side effects don’t diminish, or are unreasonable, contact your health professional.
  • Don’t stop the medication when you feel better or your anxiety may return.

What is CBT?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is considered to be one of the leading psychological treatments for anxiety. All of our online courses use CBT strategies to help ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Click below to see if CBT can help you tackle your symptoms to improve the way you feel.

Self-Help Strategies for Controlling Anxiety & Reducing Stress

Cognitive Strategies

People with generalised anxiety disorder often overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening and underestimate their ability to cope. They can also be more prone to negative and self-critical thinking. Cognitive strategies help people identify and challenge these kinds of thoughts, and learn new, more helpful ways of thinking. In doing so, these strategies help can people feel more confident, resilient, and grounded.

Behavioural Strategies

A key feature of anxiety is avoidance. Avoidance is when you miss out on fun or important experiences because of the anxiety that these experiences trigger. For example, saying no to a party because you’re worried that people there will judge you, avoiding the outdoors because you’re afraid of spiders, or not even applying for that new job because you’re afraid of rejection.

Because avoidance deprives you of the chance to have fun, connect with other people, achieve things, and overcome your fears, it keeps anxiety going. Behavioural strategies therefore target avoidance. For example:

  • Trying activities that push you just a little bit outside of your comfort zone
  • Learning to tolerate the uncomfortable physical symptoms of anxiety, like nausea and nervousness.
  • Reducing the behaviours that can keep anxiety going, like excessive planning and list making.

Coping With Symptoms of Anxiety & Excessive Worry

When you find yourself worrying, you can ask yourself the following questions:

How likely is it that the thing you’re worried about will happen? Is something else more likely? Are you trying to predict things in the distant future? If the thing you’re worried about did happen, what could you do to cope?

Does worry change the situation? Has your worrying prevented bad things from happening in the past? When you’ve worried about other things in the past, how helpful and accurate have these worries been?

Is there something more helpful you can do than worry, like doing something fun or trying to solve the problem?

Interested in learning more?

The Worry Course

Check out our practical, self-paced online course that teaches step-by-step strategies for tackling symptoms of generalised anxiety.