What does General Anxiety Disorder feel like?

by | May 4, 2017 | General Anxiety


Mind Racing. Thoughts Whirling. Muscle Tension. Poor Concentration.

Difficulty sleeping. Mind racing. Constant anxiety about work, taking over your time at home. Restlessness. Waking up anxious, thoughts whirling around your head. The need to control every aspect of your life. Irritable. Not able to be fully present with friends or family. Deep fear of uncertainty. Pains, headaches, muscle tension, twitching, clenching of teeth or hands. The inability to focus on the task in front of you. Mind wandering. Thoughts awash with catastrophe, danger, and worst case scenarios. Worry about health. Problems blown out of proportion, and ability to cope severely underestimated. Worry out of control. Tired…so very, very tired.

The symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, are many and varied. They can be very stressful, making everyday situations feel overwhelming and unmanageable. To have GAD is to feel anxious pretty much all the time. If you are not worrying, you are trying to avoid worrying (probably unsuccessfully). Intrusive thoughts about health, work, safety, danger, performance, judgement, etc., etc. Anything and everything, from current problems, to hypothetical situations.

Just stop worrying! Focus on something else! Think more positively! Cheer up!

If only it were that easy.

I wouldn’t imagine you just started worrying in the last few weeks, and now it’s a bit of a problem. I would imagine worrying is a way of life. You may be ‘the worrier’ in the family, or maybe no one has any idea the extent to which you worry. Maybe it’s become such a part of who you are, that even you don’t realise the impact it is having. You may not know why you worry all the time, and you certainly don’t know how to stop the thoughts. The workings of General Anxiety Disorder can be quite complex. Oftentimes, there are many factors that come together to form the perfect environment.


Some ingredients for General Anxiety Disorder


Anxiety symptoms

How our body reacts to anxiety, can play a major role. That knot in your stomach can often be a trigger to think about work, money, whatever the worry of choice that day. The symptoms of anxiety may have been caused by our thinking, but as we are distracted, they do not go away quickly.  They can drag us back to troubled thoughts when we locate them once more.


Intolerance of uncertainty

Knowing what will happen next, or how the day, job interview, meeting, or project will go, is pretty much impossible. There are too many factors outside our control. This can be a major problem when we cannot tolerate uncertainty.



What we think about ourselves plays such an important part in our anxiety. We may believe we are stupid, undeserving, incompetent, or unlikeable, etc. Everything is coloured by what we think of ourselves, and we presume everyone else sees these failings in us too. This can dictate how we read interactions with friends, colleagues, managers, etc., and can be a cause of much anxiety.


Lack of self-compassion

we are often far harder on ourselves than we would ever dream about being on others. Mistakes are not permitted, as they are proof of our incompetence. We berate ourselves for not being good enough, or making a fool of ourselves. When we find it difficult to be kind to ourselves, our constant put downs can be endless and painful.


Unrelenting Standards

Setting the bar too high. Do we have any idea how good our own perform is in relation to others? Chances are we underestimate our own abilities, due to perfectionism and excessive attention to detail. We see our performance as sub-par, because of the unrealistic standards we hold ourselves to.


Our beliefs about worry

we may think the worry is good for us, keeps us prepared and ready for all eventualities. Conversely, we can see it as debilitating, and something that needs to be avoided at all costs. We begin to worry about the impact of our worry. Either way, this allows space for our anxiety to grow.


Lack of coping skills

Perhaps we had a parent that always solved our problems, or smoothed out the path before us. Or perhaps we just didn’t have the environment or opportunity to learn good coping techniques. Whatever the reason, not having the skills to cope with change, problems, or adversity, can leave us feeling vulnerable and anxious.


Unhelpful thinking styles

The way in which we see things can have a huge effect on how we feel.  Overgeneralisation, only seeing the negative, jumping to conclusions, or catastrophising are common thinking styles associated with GAD.


Difficulty managing emotions

Strong emotions can be overwhelming, especially if we have spent a lifetime trying to avoid them. This often results from an inability to understand our emotions and a lack of skills to manage them effectively. Unmanaged emotions can be a breeding ground for anxious thoughts.


The inner voice

Perhaps the biggest ally of anxiety. The highly critical, never resting, predictor of doom…the inner voice. How much time do we waste listening to the inner voice telling us we’re not good enough? How much of the worry it concocts has ever come to pass?


How to eat an elephant

Generalised Anxiety Disorder is all about the ‘what if’. Future based worry, interpreting neutral information as threatening, and always imagining the worst happening. Over-estimating the problem and underestimating our ability to cope. This excessive and all-consuming worry can make everyday life very difficult, and could potentially lead to anxiety attacks, or panic attacks. This article is just an overview of the problem, and further posts to this blog will go into detail on all of the points listed above, offering ways to tackle each element, so we can work our way through the many aspects that are contributing to our anxiety.

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.


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