Worry and GAD: Symptoms and Treatment

Worry is often experienced as a chain of negative thoughts, images and doubts about things that might happen in the future. In essence, worriers tend to be concerned by what's 'around the corner' rather than what's here right now.

For the most part, worry is about things where the outcome is uncertain. Worrying about one thing often leads quickly and easily to worrying about something quite different. As a result, worriers can get caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts about bad things that might happen.

GAD (General Anxiety Disorder)

GAD is the formal diagnosis of excessive worry.  Classifying a problem like worry with a formal label such as GAD can be either helpful or unhelpful depending on your viewpoint. Many people are relieved or found it helpful to find a label or name of their problem - often because the problem has been previously missed, or worse, dismissed.

The key features of GAD are excessive and uncontrollable worry about a number of different subjects, together with other symptoms of anxiety. (For more information on anxiety see this page)

Worry is a Normal Process

All of us worry. Worry is a normal process. Research suggests that whether we worry a lot or a little we all worry more or less about the same kinds of things. From time to time we may worry about our families, relationships, our working or school lives, health or finances.

For people who worry excessively, though, the problem is not so much what things they worry about – these are common to us all – but the ease with which they fall into worrying.

For worriers even the smallest of things can be of concern and the list of their worries is endless.

Symptoms of Worry and GAD

  • You seem to always be worrying about something and have done for a long time
  • Even if there is nothing to worry about, you still find yourself worrying
  • Minor things spiral into major concerns
  • Once it starts worry is hard to stop
  • Worry stops you enjoying life
  • Your friends or family often suggest that you worry too much. Or they repeatedly tell you to stop.

    If the answer to at least two of these questions is yes, and if your worry is having a significant impact on how you function at work, at home or in social settings or is causing you distress, then you may have a worry problem.

GAD and Depression

Depressive symptoms are normal in moderate to severe GAD. When depression appears it is often related to exhaustion and demoralization.

Worry is an extremely tiring activity; just remember the last time you worried about and then attended an interview. While the interview may only have lasted only twenty to thirty minute, afterward you may have felt exhausted.

For more information on depression see this page

Difference between everyday worry and excessive worry

In general, the difference between excessive and everyday worry is a matter of degree rather than outright difference. Everyone worries from time to time. Chronic worriers, however, tend to worry more often and for longer periods of time than people with everyday worry, and they tend to believe that there worry is more out of control.


Worriers usual suffer with other signs of anxiety as well, such as restlessness, irritability, difficulty in sleeping, fatigue, muscle tension and concentration problems. 

Diagnostic Criteria for GAD

  • Excessive anxiety and worry occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events and activities (such as work or school performance).
  • Difficultly controlling worry.
  • The anxiety or worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms present for more days than not for the past 6 months)
    • Restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
    • Being easily fatigued
    • Difficulty concentration or mind going blank
    • Irritability
    • Muscle tension
    • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless unsatisfying sleep)
  • The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social occupational or other important areas of functioning.
  • The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g. a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition (e.g. hyperthyroidism)
  • The disturbance is not better explained by another disorder.

How many people worry

Surveys have found that in every thousand adults, forty-four reached a diagnosis for GAD.

GAD was second only to mixed anxiety and depression in terms of how commonly it occurred; indeed GAD was found to be more common than depression. 


Furthermore, research in many different countries has suggested that roughly between 2 and 4 percent of the UK population will have enough symptoms to receive a diagnosis of Gad in one year, and 4 to 7 percent of people will develop GAD at some point in their lives. In the UK that is 1.2 to 2.4 million who suffer with excessive worry.

You are not alone.

Problems spotting GAD 

One of the main difficulties in spotting problematic worry is that health professionals may not ask the right questions at the right time. This happens for many reasons, but a main cause is that people with chronic worry tend to worry more when stressful life events happen (e.g. a daughters wedding, job deadlines, exams). At these stressful times, worries suffer with more worry, which produces anxiety symptoms (e.g. muscular tension, sleep disturbance or concentration problems).

Unfortunately if you visit the doctor about these problems they assume it is normal as everyone worries about such stressful events. As a result clinically significant worry is overlooked.

In these instances, the individual’s problems may go unrecognised and they fail to get the help they need to target their problem.

Unfortunately worry is often a ‘silent problem’, like carrying the burden, but the impact on the lives of worriers is immense.

Treatment of Worry and GAD

There are a number of things that you can do to start treating your worry. Getting enough daylight and exercise can be useful, as is eating a healthy balanced diet and drinking  a lot of water. 

​But the most important things you can do is to begin to notice your worry. This may sound odd as your worry is probably the last thing you want to think about and already takes up enough of your time.

In essence, the suggestion is to try to work out what type of worries you have. This is like stepping out of a stream and sitting on the bank and watching the worry flow past. This is important as it allows you to reflect on worry rather than being in it; form the ‘river-bank’ you are in a better place to recognise the different types of worry that float past. 

As you notice your worry in this detached way try to spot which are real worries (about events that have happened) and which are hypothetical worries (about things that might happen). Real event worries can be solved by problem solving actively working to find solutions to the problem. 

With hypothetical worry, you need a different approach. Often they are far removed in time and highly unlikely to happen, so there’ no use worrying. In this case you’ll need to investigate the fear that lies at the heart of your worry.

Getting Help

The above will work for mild to moderate  worry and GAD. If your symptoms are moderate to severe, you should think about scheduling a consultation with me so that you can explore the possibility of getting professional help.

We'll tailor treatment to your needs, but most likely it will include:

  • Exploration and identification of the potential triggers for your worry
  • Exploration of some of your thoughts and feelings during the worry process.
  • The introduction of tools and techniques that can help you start to get control and defeat your worry.

Internal Links

External Links

Reach Out

Getting some assistance with your worry will help you feel calmer, more relaxed and joyful. Let’s discover how I can help.

Reach out to schedule your first appointment. During your first session, you can share a bit about what's troubling you and I can answer any questions you might have. We'll discuss your goals and my approach and assess whether we are the right fit for each other. To schedule your first appointment, call 01733 639 040 email info@mentalwellnesscounselling.uk. I'm here for you.

Mental Wellness Counselling Logo

» CALL 01733 639 040