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General Anxiety Disorder – how it comes about, the impact on individuals and how it is treated

March 5, 2017

General anxiety disorder(GAD) affects about 5% of the population – males and females equally. It is often the reason that people seek help from their GP. Sometimes a SRI type medication is prescribed (also used for depression and helps the brain to stimulate serotonin production (a “feel good” chemical which can become depleted for a variety of reasons). This type of medication needs to be monitored by the doctor on a regular basis.

People are often referred to a Psychologist or Psychotherapist to provide counselling. Most clinical Pyschologists use a type of therapy call Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) or Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) or a combination of both. Both these approaches are useful in that they assist people, in the case of CBT to gradually develop more control over their negative thought patterns which underlie emotions and actions.

All animals, including humans experience, from time to time a healthy fear response to possible threats and dangers. This helps keep us safe in the world. However, people with chronic or long term anxiety, this fear response is over developed and produces constant worry about all sorts of real or imagined situations in life. Symptoms are many, varying from person to person and often very uncomfortable.

GAD can manifest in childhood, adolescence and adulthood and often becomes more disabling over time. Coping strategies are often in place by the time people become aware they have a real problem (often there is an acceptance that “this is just the way I am”). These strategies are mostly unhealthy ways of dealing with anxiety such as extreme avoidance of people and situations and drug and /or alcohol abuse.

In Gestalt therapy terms, these strategies are called “creative adjustments” which I think is a really helpful way of viewing how we learn to survive in the world. Often there has been underlying trauma or abuse which set up specific responses in neural pathways in the brain. Over time, the person’s response to perceived fearful situations becomes embedded.

The good news for people with GAD is that, with an effective form of therapy, this condition can be not only managed (as with the use of CBT) but can fade so much into the background that it no longer holds the person back or stops them from enjoying life and all its challenges, to the fullest.

Prescribed medication and coping techniques taught by mainstream Psychologists certainly have their place in the short term; however, if you want a more sustained response to GAD, I would recommend some form of psychotherapy such as Gestalt therapy. You will find this available at Sharman’s Therapy Centre on the Gold Coast. See for more information and contact details.

With warm best wishes on your personal journey.  Susie Sharman

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