Counseling for Generalized Anxiety (GAD)

Counseling for Generalized Anxiety (GAD)

Counseling for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Everyone experiences anxiety to some extent; it is considered a normal part of life. In fact, a certain level of anxiety can actually be a good thing− feelings of worry can produce motivation and allow us to work harder. However, if anxiety is constant and uncontrollable, it can become so debilitating that we are unable to be successful. If it is persistent and feels ever-present, it may be what is called generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Since GAD is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions, it is important to understand what it is and how it can be treated.

What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Generalized anxiety disorder (or GAD) is outlined in the DSM-V as excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events for no obvious reason. Worrying may be something you are so used to that you may think it's just "how you are." Common worries include your health, money, family, or work. While everyone worries about these things once in a while, if you always expect the worst, it can get in the way of living a normal life. Sometimes just the thought of getting through the day produces anxiety. People with GAD don’t know how to stop the worry cycle and feel it is beyond their control, even though they usually realize that their anxiety is more intense than the situation warrants.

Facts: In the latest studies of GAD by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. 

Causes for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD can develop when you can't cope well with your internal stress. It sometimes runs in families, but it's not understood why some people get it and others don't as it is most often very unique to the individual. Researchers have shown that the areas of the brain that control fear and anxiety are involved. The symptoms of GAD can happen as a side effect of a medicine or substance abuse, although this is not always the case. It can also be related to certain medical conditions that increase hormones, which can make the body’s response more excitable and prone to anxiety. GAD can be triggered by family, relationships, fear, or environmental stress. Chronic physical illness and disease can also trigger GAD.

Signs and Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD develops slowly. It often starts during the teen years or young adulthood. GAD can vary for each individual, and usually involves both mental and physical symptoms. They may include:

  • Persistent worrying or anxiety about a number of areas that are out of proportion to the impact of the events
  • Overthinking plans and solutions to all possible worst-case outcomes
  • Perceiving situations and events as threatening, even when they aren't
  • Difficulty handling uncertainty
  • Indecisiveness and fear of making the wrong decision
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, feeling restless, and feeling keyed up or on edge
  • Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind "goes blank"

More physical signs and symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension or muscle aches
  • Trembling, feeling twitchy
  • Nervousness or being easily startled
  • Sweating
  • Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability

If you find that you are experiencing a number of these signs/symptoms for what feels like an extended period of time, or that you cannot seem to pinpoint the cause for them, you might want to further explore the possibility of GAD.

How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Diagnosed?

When assessing for GAD, clinical professionals are looking for the following:

  1. The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least six months and is clearly excessive.
  2. The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry in both adults and children may easily shift from one topic to another.
  3. The anxiety and worry are accompanied by at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (In children, only one of these symptoms is necessary for a diagnosis of GAD):
  • Edginess or restlessness
  • Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
  • Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
  • Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
  • Increased muscle aches or soreness
  • Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)

In order to give a diagnosis of GAD, these symptoms also must be unrelated to any other medical conditions and cannot be explained by a different mental disorder or by the effect of substance use, including prescription medication, alcohol, or recreational drugs. This does not mean that they don’t sometimes exist (co-occur) along with other symptoms, but merely that they are not exclusive to other conditions (your treatment team can help to determine this).

How is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) Treated with Counseling?

There is not a single “one size treats all” way to treat GAD. When you seek out help, the way you are treated will be unique to your individual case. Your care provider will consider your overall health, and other factors when advising treatment for you. Treatment may include or combine:

  • Medicine
  • Counseling (cognitive behavioral therapy, or psychotherapy)
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Working with a therapist to boost coping skills

Self Screening for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

If you feel like you might have GAD but aren’t sure where to start, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has created a short questionnaire according to the DSM-V criteria. First, answer the following, yes or no: 

  • Do you experience excessive worry?
  • Is your worry excessive in intensity, frequency, or amount of distress it causes?
  • Do you find it difficult to control the worry (or stop worrying) once it starts?
  • Do you worry excessively or uncontrollably about minor things such as being late for an appointment, minor repairs, homework, etc.?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, you may find it helpful to go to the ADAA website to download a more detailed screening tool. While self-screening cannot take the place of a professional diagnosis and treatment plan, it may help to give you some further insight into the possibility you may be struggling with GAD. Bringing the results of your screening along to an appointment can serve as a helpful start to a conversation with your doctor and/or psychologist / counselor.

Counseling for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

If your level of anxiety feels out of control, it is likely time to seek help. This is a courageous step that can help clarify what is happening and, in turn, lead to creating a plan of care that can help you find relief and regain a sense of well-being. The sad reality is that the percentage of people who reach out for help is relatively low; this is unfortunate, because GAD is treatable. At Lansing Counseling, our therapists are experienced in treating generalized anxiety disorder and would be happy to work with you. To schedule an appointment, you can fill out our intake form, call us at (517)-333-1499 or send us an email at [email protected]


Lansing Counseling

5030 Northwind Dr Suite 101
East Lansing, MI 48823

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