Understanding Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
and What Causes It
The thoughts are racing and unstoppable – something awful might happen. What would I do? What
could I do?. What can I do? ... what if?
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) involves incessant, uncontrollable worrying... but we don't just worry about anything.
Everything we worry about has a common theme: some potential threat to our safety or that of our loved ones.
There is no doubt that we live in anxious times: threats of violence, poverty and illness are only a news bulletin away. Indeed
many people believe this to be the 'age of anxiety' but, in reality, this just isn't so. Man has struggled with anxiety
problems for centuries and some of the greatest works of art, literature and poetry reflect this struggle. The following
quotation, from over three hundred years ago, sums them up aptly:
"'The mind is it's own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a
hell of heaven"
...John Milton (1608–1674)
Excessive and persistent anxiety is a problem relating to our self not the times we live in and when we understand what is
really happening with GAD it is possible to cure it completely.
Let's take a closer look at anxiety.
Anxiety is a series or instinctual reactions and responses that have evolved over time to protect us and save us from being hurt.
It does this in two ways:
1. It prepares us physically to either fight or run away, the fight-or-flight response. This is responsible for the
physical symptoms such as: fast heartbeat and breathing, trembling and shaking, sweating, nausea and difficulty
2. It prepares us mentally. We start thinking about dangerous situations before we get to them: what might
happen and the chance of getting hurt. It's better not to get into a dangerous situation in the first place and the apprehension
and doubt we experience helps us to decide whether to face it or not.
With GAD we may feel always 'on-edge' to some degree, it's one of the common physical symptoms –
but by far the greatest symptom we experience is the worrying.
The mental apprehension and concern that something might happen because of us or that we could have prevented. A part of
us knows that this is not sensible and we cannot control the future but we cannot stop it.
Anxiety and GAD:
Today, most beliefs about GAD are based on the medical model. Yet the belief that anxiety disorders can be explained by
something going 'wrong' in our brain and that a cure lies in fixing the 'thing' that has gone wrong (usually by medication)
is failing millions of people desperate for a cure.
For the medical model overlooks the incredible power of the human mind and, as such, doesn't even come close to an
answer. It misses the real cause of the problem and doesn't deal with it at all.
GAD reflects insecurity: we cannot stop worrying – just in case. And the fact that we cannot control our thoughts
makes us feel as bad, if not worse, than the thoughts themselves.
Insecurities (whatever their original cause) become linked to the possibility that something bad may happen to our self or a
loved one. Everybody worries. It's a normal part of anxiety seen earlier.
But what makes the thoughts become so strong, so persistent and uncontrollable?
Why Thoughts Become Uncontrollable
In an experiment in 1970, a group of insomniacs, plagued by incessant, uncontrollable thoughts, were given a placebo
pill (a harmless sugar pill that has no effect). Some were told that the pill would help them to relax, others were told that
the pill would make them more alert. (1)
Surprisingly, the ones who were told that the pill would make them more alert went to sleep faster. They did so because they
were able to attribute their inabilty to sleep to the pill and not some problem with themsleves.
Uncontrollable thoughts (whether in insomnia, GAD or OCD) develop and are kept alive and strengthened not because of some
strange disorder, illness or disease ... but because of something we feel about our self.
"A state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible misfortune, danger etc."
And to be anxious is to be "worried and tense"
(Collins English Dictionary)
Medical Definition of a Disorder:-
"an illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions"
1. Storms, M. D. & Nisbett, R. E. (1970) Insomnia and the attribution process. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 16, 319‐328