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What You Need To Know About Generalised Anxiety Disorder

November 18, 2016

A chronic form of anxiety disorder that affects twice as many women as men, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) manifests in symptoms that can be debilitating for the sufferer if not properly managed. In this article, we speak to clinical director and psychologist Jolene Hwee to find out more about GAD as well as its treatment options.


How do you tell GAD apart from other forms of anxiety disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder?


Hwee: “GAD is characterised by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. It has symptoms similar to panic disorder, OCD and other types of anxiety but they’re all different conditions. OCD is a chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable and recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviours (compulsions) that they feel the urge to repeat over and over. Social anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is the extreme fear of being scrutinised and judged by others in social or performance situations.”


In the same vein, how would one know if they are suffering from GAD or simply having normal feelings of anxiousness?


Hwee: “Everyone of us experiences the latter every once in a while – it’s normal to stress over your finances, for instance, every now and then. Using the same example, someone suffering from GAD would be stricken with worry about their finances a few times a day, and this worry could last months. Just take a look at the symptoms of GAD, and you’ll know it is worlds apart from normal anxiety:

  • Persistent worrying or obsessing over small or large concerns that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event
  • Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
  • Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up on or edge
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Worrying about excessive worrying
  • Distressed about making decisions for fear of making the wrong ones
  • Difficulty handling uncertainties or indecisiveness

In addition, these symptoms are often accompanied by physical symptoms, including fatigue, muscle tension, headaches or migraines, and insomnia.”


What is the prevalence of GAD in Singapore?

Hwee: “Spearheaded by the institute of Mental Health in 2010, the Singapore Mental Health Survey revealed that 0.9% of the population suffered from GAD, with OCD emerging as more prevalent than GAD. In the US, GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected. This may also be true for the local population, though no further studies have been conducted here to confirm it yet. In our practice, we are seeing clients with GAD from ages 20 to 60.”


Can GAD ever become debilitating for the sufferer?

Hwee: “Yes. The anxiety and associated symptoms can make it hard for the sufferer to carry out day-to-day activities and responsibilities, which may cause problems in relationships, at work, as well as in other important areas.”


Under what circumstances should the sufferer seek professional help?

Hwee: “When the worry occurs more often than not for at least six months, and is clearly excessive and experienced as hard to control. People struggling with GAD worry even there is absolutely nothing wrong.”


If someone suffers from GAD, would they be able to get by without taking medication?

Hwee: “Yes, some may be successfully treated with psychotherapy and counselling, while others may need medication. It really depends on the severity of the condition.”


What are some non-prescription ways to treat GAD?

Hwee: “See a qualified therapist or counsellor to understand the root causes of the anxiety, as well as equip yourself with strategies to manage the anxiety. Some healthy and adaptive strategies involve engaging in calming activities, such as relaxation techniques, mindfulness meditation, exercise, and regular sleep.”


[HealthScoop ed’s note: If you suspect a loved one is suffering from GAD based on the symptoms mentioned earlier, the most important thing to remember is to always be prepared to offer help without being overly intrusive or pushy. Gently encourage them to open up to you, followed by suggesting some of the abovementioned calming activities. If they do not wish to open up, do not push; simply offer your support and spend more time with them – your presence lets them know they are not alone.]