What is an anxiety disorder?

Everyone at some stage of their life experiences anxiety, for example, in the context of sitting an exam or attending an interview. Anxiety is actually a good thing in small doses and when the situation warrants it. For example, anxiety can help us identify if we are in danger and to take the necessary action to ensure our safety. On the other hand, if we experience heightened amounts of anxiety it can end up impairing our ability to live our lives and result in constant feelings of dread and fear. It can also manifest into physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and sweaty palms.

If you are experiencing this, you may have General Anxiety Disorder (GAD). GAD is a common mental health condition – approximately 7% of people in Ireland experience GAD according to a study conducted by Maynooth University in 2022. There are a variety of self-help and therapeutic approaches that can help you manage this condition and to live your best life, which are outlined below. But before we look at these let’s take a closer look at what GAD is.

What is Generalize Anxiety Disorder?

According to the DSM-V GAD is characterised by “excessive anxiety and worry about a number of events or activities.”  This worry can relate to everything and anything including work matters, health, family, and finances. The person can often jump from one worry to another and sometimes the feelings of anxiety are not attached to any specific thing but experienced as an overarching feeling of worry and dread. This differs from social anxiety, for example, because in this context the person experiences anxiety when social interaction is the focus.


There are a range of symptoms a person with GAD can experience. These include emotional, physical, and cognitive symptoms such as:

  • Feeling panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Dry mouth
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle tension
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble sleeping

What Causes Anxiety?

Research has suggested that causes may include:

  • Genetics: the genes you inherit from your parents.
  • Environmental factors: having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse, loneliness, or bullyin
  • Brain structure/activity: Individuals with an anxiety disorder may have heightened activity in certain areas of the brain.

Anxiety treatments

There are several things that you can do yourself to help manage your anxiety. The list below is just some of the things that could make up your wellbeing tool-kit. Remember, every person is unique so what might work for one person may not work for you and what may have worked in the past may not work now so it is important to be proactive and apply a curious mindset to keeping your tool-kit fresh and relevant. (These steps do not replace more formal treatments):

  • Ensure good sleep hygiene
  • Eat healthily
  • Limit caffeine intake and other substances such as alcohol
  • Exercise
  • Goal setting
  • Practice yoga, meditation, breathing exercises
  • Write down your thoughts in a journal

Therapeutic Treatments

In addition to self-help techniques, you may need more professional help. This involves being prescribed medication by your GP or Psychiatrist such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), attending psychotherapy sessions or a combination of the two.

There are a variety of psychotherapeutic approaches that can help clients who are experiencing GAD. These may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Humanistic Therapy
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
  • Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT)

Let’s take a closer look at some of these approaches:

CBT typically characterised as a short-term and skills focused treatment explores how your thoughts, feelings and behaviour relate to and sustain your anxiety. CBT can help you change your negative thought patterns and improve the way you feel.

Psychodynamic therapy is a type of therapy that aims to build insight or self-awareness. Positing that anxiety reflects internal conflicts, this type of therapy aims to resolve these conflicts by bringing them into the conscious realm and thus helping the client to alleviate their anxieties.

Humanistic therapy believes that every human being has the capacity and self determination to live their best lives. The aim of this approach is to create the right environment via the therapeutic relationship to help clients tap into and understand their deeper feelings and experiences leading to self-acceptance, change and personal growth.

Again, there are several types of psychotherapeutic approaches out there that can help and the most important thing is to reach out if you feel you need support.

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