Most of us worry about things from time-to-time; such as finances, relationships, and work. When we worry, we might also notice some physical changes in our bodies. We sweat more than usual, our mouths become dry and our heart begins to race. This kind of anxiety is a normal response to many things that happen to us day-to-day. In fact, anxiety can even be useful in certain situations, by helping us to feel more alert and prepared.
But problems can arise when these worries and sensations become so intense that they interfere in our day-to-day lives. For example, some people might worry about their relationships so much that they can’t sleep. Or they might worry about work so much that they stop enjoying the time that they spend with their friends and family. When these kinds of worries persist for many months, they may be a sign of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
Around 1 in 20 people will suffer with GAD at some point in their lives. And women are affected more often than men. Other common symptoms of GAD include restlessness, a sense of dread, difficulty concentrating, headaches and nausea .
The key difference between GAD and other anxiety disorders is that, in GAD, the worries are about a range of different areas of life. For example, somebody with health anxiety will worry mainly about their health. Somebody with a height phobia will worry mainly about heights. Whereas somebody with GAD will worry about a range of different things; such as work, finances, and relationships.
Although GAD is a debilitating disorder, there are several different treatments available that can help. One such treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
What is cognitive-behavioural therapy and how can it help?
CBT is a popular form of talking therapy that can improve how you feel by changing the way that you think (‘cognitive’) and act (‘behaviour’). The idea behind CBT is that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are all interconnected, each impacting upon each other.
In the case of GAD, somebody may have a negative thought, such as “what if I can’t afford to pay the bills? i’ll lose my house”. This thought then leads to unhelpful behaviours, such as staying awake at night to check over bank statements and create budgets. In turn, this leads to irritability and even more negative thoughts, creating a vicious cycle of anxiety. CBT aims to break these negative cycles and replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviours with more helpful ones.
Unlike some talking therapies, CBT focuses on your current problems rather than on your past. CBT is also goal-focussed, and aims to help you to achieve whatever you’d like to achieve. For example, if you want to improve your sleep, then this can be a focus of the CBT sessions.
CBT for GAD generally lasts for between 10-20 sessions, although this can vary. Sessions can take place either face-to-face, through the computer (e.g. using Skype) or over the telephone.
Within each session you will learn to challenge unhelpful and inaccurate thoughts. You will also be supported in exposing yourself to those things that you fear the most, as this is a useful way of tackling anxiety. For example, if you’ve been avoiding looking at your bank statements because you’re worried about your finances, then you’ll be encouraged by your therapist to begin looking at these statements. You may also learn some relaxation and mindfulness techniques .
How does cognitive-behavioural therapy compare to other treatment?
The two most effective treatments for GAD are CBT and medication . Both treatments are recommended by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence; a national organisation that produce evidence-based guidance for healthcare professionals.
Although both medication and CBT can be helpful, it is not clear which of the two are more effective for GAD. And in many cases, people will take medication and receive therapy at the same time. However, the positive effects of CBT may last longer than medication. In addition, many people who take medication experience some negative side effects.
To find out more about medication for GAD, including information on the side effects, please speak to your doctor.
To find out more about CBT, and whether it is right for you, please click here and speak to one of our therapists at Cognitive Practice.
Writer for Cognitive Practice