One in seven Australians experience anxiety each year, with generalised anxiety affecting almost 6% of people across their lifetime. As a Clinical Psychologist specialising in anxiety, I work regularly with clients experiencing symptoms of generalised anxiety. So what are the signs and symptoms of generalised anxiety?
The key symptom of generalised anxiety is excessive and uncontrollable worrying. Worrying is something that most people to do at certain times, but the major differences when someone is experiencing generalised anxiety are that:
- Worrying happens more frequently. It can sometimes feel like you get trapped in an endless cycle of worry. Your mind repeats the same worries over and over again or your worries have a snow-ball effect, building and building until you feel totally consumed by worry
- The worry is spread across a range of issues (for example, worrying about family and socialising, health, safety the future, work or study, finances, tasks that need to be done), rather than being focused on a specific concern
- The worry feels difficult to control. No matter how hard you try, the worries just keeping popping up. In fact, the more you try to push your worries down the louder and more overpowering they seem to get
People with generalised anxiety also tend to have positive beliefs about worry such as:
- “By worrying I prevent bad things from happening”
- “If I worry I’ll be prepared for the worst”
- “If I don’t worry about this issue enough, I won’t be prepared when it happens”
- “By worrying about this I am motivating myself”
- “Worrying about this will help me to find a solution”
Generalised anxiety worries tend to begin with “what if…?” questions. So for example what if:
- Something happens to my children, partner or pet?
- I don’t have enough money for my future or my family’s future?
- I get nervous and make a fool of myself?
- I fail my exam?
- I get fired?
- I get sick and can’t work anymore?
- I don’t get there on time?
- I can’t get everything done?
- I can’t do a perfect job of this?
Because of their worries people with generalised anxiety will often procrastinate on getting started with tasks or avoid certain situations that trigger their worry. It can also feel very difficult to tolerate uncertainty, for example, not knowing why a loved one hasn’t come home on time or not knowing the outcome of a job interview.
As well as impacting thoughts, generalised anxiety shows up in the body. The key physical symptoms are:
- tension in your body (particularly the shoulders, neck and head)
- feeling restless, keyed up or on edge
- feeling exhausted or easily fatigued
- difficulties with concentration, staying focused or your mind going blank
- irritability or feeling snappy with yourself and others
- sleep disturbance (trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or not feeling rested when you wake up)
There are several effective treatments for generalised anxiety, including Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Mindfulness based approaches and medication. In next week’s blog each of these treatment options will be explored in detail.
If you feel that you might be experiencing generalised anxiety symptoms and would like some professional assistance please contact us at Inner Melbourne Clinical Psychology.