What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive worry that is difficult to control. Persistent worry takes place more days than not, centers around several aspects of life (e.g. work, school, relationships, performance), and takes place for at least months at a time. Individuals with GAD often believe that their successes in life (or the avoidance of catastrophe) can be attributed to worry and attempts at control. They also often resort to seeking reassurance from either themselves or others when faced with uncertainty. Many individuals struggling with GAD also describe “imposter syndrome”, meaning that they experience feelings of inadequacy despite external markers of success and positive feedback. Generalized anxiety disorder affects about 3-5% of children, 1% of adolescents, and 3-5% of adults.
A core theme in generalized anxiety is intolerance of uncertainty: the act of worrying is meant to try to reduce the discomfort brought about by the uncertainty around worry questions, but really it kicks off a neverending cycle because the questions most people worry about are by definition impossible to answer with certainty.
Common Generalized Anxiety Symptoms:
- Excessive worry that feels difficult to stop
- Intolerance of uncertainty
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Sleep difficulties
- Stomach pain and other gastrointestinal distress (e.g. diarrhea, vomiting)
Generalized Anxiety Treatment
We use a form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called Exposure Therapy to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This research-supported form of GAD treatment involves teaching knowledge, skills, and practices that improve one’s ability to disengage from worry and confront uncertainty in order to retrain the brain that uncertainty is acceptable and tolerable rather than dangerous. The key skill we work on here is the skill of redirecting attention off of the worry process and onto the present moment. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and mindfulness meditation can be helpful for practicing and implementing this skill as well. Through these processes, clients improve their ability to be present and engaged in their life, practice their values, and get relief from GAD.
To learn more about what our treatment looks like, click here: What to Expect In Therapy