What is Generalised Anxiety?


Anxiety is something that every single person in the world will experience at one point or another. In fact, 2 in 5 people worry at least once everyday; however, for some people they tend to experience chronically. When this happens it can feel like anxiety has taken over your life. This will be the first in a 10 part series on how to cope with general anxiety.

Understanding Anxiety

To learn how to cope with it, let’s first cover what anxiety is. Being fearful or anxious is very much a part of being human, and is actually a survival instinct. Our bodies tell us to feel this way when there is a dangerous situation ahead. It’s often also called the fight or flight response; because in caveman days this response provided us the energy to either fight what danger was ahead of us (like a bear or intruder) or to run away from it. To allow our body energy to do this, our body undergoes many physical changes.

Today, however, we experience anxiety in situation when we are not in threatening situations. Think about the adrenaline rush one gets before giving a speech, or that a performer gets before going on stage. Most people experience at least a little bit of anxiety in these types of situations; it’s when the anxiety stops you from doing things that needs to be done that it becomes a problem.

Types of Anxiety

Fear: an intense response to an immediate and specific situation

General: produces physical and emotional feelings similar to that of fear, but a lower level of intensity. In addition, it tends to be more constant, as opposed to during specific situations.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Normal anxiety becomes a problem when it becomes…

  • Excessive
  • Uncontrollable
  • Is intrusive on daily living
  • Persistent
  • Impairs your ability to go about day-to-day life

Some common symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Chronic worries, also known as rumination
  • Uncontrollable anxiety: when you feel you can’t control the emotions associated with your stress
  • Intrusive Thoughts: When thoughts and worries enter your mind no matter how much you try to not to worry about them.
  • Hating Uncertainty: Wanting to know what is going to happen at all times, usually so you can be prepared.
  • Restlessness: feeling revved up and on edge most of the time.
  • Physically tense: Feeling nervy or uptight, leading to muscles to feel tight and stiff
  • Disturbed Sleep: having trouble either falling or staying asleep, usually because your mind is fully of worrisome thoughts.
  • Difficulty concentrating:  hard time focusing on tasks.
  • Procrastinating: putting things off because everything feels overwhelming.
  • Avoidance: staying away from situations where you worry or become anxious.

What Causes Generalised Anxiety?

Biological Factors

Some twin studies have found that some people just have an inherent vulnerability to developing anxiety disorders. Additionally, people born with anxious temperaments may be more likely to develop an anxiety disorder later in life.

Psychological Factors

Stressful, traumatic and uncomfortable life events may contribute to developing generalised anxiety disorder. Traumatic events can lead people to believe that life is dangerous and unpredictable, and that worry about possible negative events is a way of coping.

Situational Factors

Anxiety can also develop when people around you give you information about what is threatening and how to cope. For example, if a child sees a parent constantly worrying about current circumstances, they learn to follow their parent’s behaviour.


Anxiety is actually made worse the more you avoid the thing you’re concerned about. If someone in your life supports your avoidance of various things, this can actually make your anxiety worse in the long run. In fact, experiencing a small amount of distress and learning how to solve or cope with the problem is likely to stop more severe anxiety in the long run.

Stay tuned…

Next week we’ll be talking more about worrying, such as what triggers your worrying and why it is that you keep worrying.

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

This article was adapted from:

Saulsman, L., Nathan. P., Lim, L., Correia, H., Anderson, R. & Campbell, B. (2015). What? Me Worry!?! Mastering your worries. Perth, Western Australia: Centre for Clinical Interventions.

What is Generalised Anxiety?
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