Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Symptoms, Causes & Treatment #LewisPsychology

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In this video I’m going I look at generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). I describe what it is, look at the symptoms, causes and treatment options. Individuals with generalised anxiety disorder often engage in what we call ‘cognitive distortions’. A cognitive distortion is a type of irrational thought where you see things in a way that is much more negative than it really is. Another key feature of GAD is the intolerance of uncertainty. Uncertainty is a normal part of life but research has found that people with GAD often intolerant of uncertainty. They will often try to plan and prepare for everything as a way of avoiding or eliminating uncertainty which can include list making, reassurance seeking, double checking and avoiding people or places. Research also states there is a direct correlation between perfectionism and GAD. Perfectionism involves setting the bar exceedingly high and the need to be flawless in all that you do. But striving for perfection is likely to make you feel stressed and even disappointed with yourself when you aren’t able to meet your own impossible standards.

Other cognitive symptoms of GAD include a sense of dread, feeling constantly “on edge”, irritability, indecisiveness, inability to let go of a worry, inability to relax, and difficulty concentrating.

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With GAD the prefrontal cortex in the brain is spending a lot of time involved in cognitive distortions such as catastrophising and these thinking patterns actually communicate to the amygdala that you’re in danger. The body then releases adrenaline and cortisol. The cortisol in particular can cause the bodily symptoms associated with GAD such as racing heart, shortness of breath, sweating, shaking, digestive upsets, insomnia, fatigue and muscle pains. This process is called the fight of flight response.

The exact cause of GAD is unknown but its believed to be linked to a combination of genetic, behavioural, developmental, and other factors. In the video I look at three potential causes of GAD. The first potential cause is life experiences. GAD results when the flight or fight response becomes triggered too easily and too frequently. And this can occur after experiencing traumatic life events such as abuse, trauma or bullying.

A second potential cause is epigenetic. With reference to anxiety scientists have found that a percentage of people have a genetic predisposition to be anxious and that environment factors can actually switch on the anxious gene. Environmental factors and life experiences can cause genes to be expressed or silenced.

The third potential cause of GAD applies to women only and that’s the perimenopause. Studies show that 23% of women experience symptoms of anxiety during perimenopause and one of the primary issues here is the fluctuation of hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

Research shows that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is more effective than medication for the treatment of GAD. With your therapist you can work together to break the vicious cycle of anxiety, learn techniques to calm your amygdala, learn how to look at situations in new less frightening ways and also uncover the underlying causes of your GAD.

Research has shown that Mindfulness meditation is also very effective at reducing anxiety. MRI scans after an 8 week course of mindfulness practice shows the amygdala appears to actually shrink. Also the connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker.


Teresa Lewis is the founder and Director of Lewis Psychology and a Senior Accredited psychotherapist with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (MBACP Snr. Accred). Qualified in 1995, Teresa has been providing counselling and psychotherapy treatment for nearly 30 years. Teresa holds a masters degree in counselling and psychotherapy and is a qualified EMDR Practitioner having completed training accredited with EMDR Europe. Teresa is also a qualified adult educator and an accredited Mindfulness teacher As a recognised expert in her field Teresa is frequently asked to conduct editorial reviews and endorse counselling and psychotherapy books for international publishing houses.

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