Generalised anxiety disorder

If you worry excessively about many aspects of your life, you may have generalised anxiety disorder. A range of self-help treatment options are available through AT-Ease to reduce your anxiety and help you enjoy a less-stressed life.

Time to read: 5 minutes

What is generalised anxiety disorder?

People with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) worry excessively about different areas of life, such as family, health, finances and work. People with GAD are plagued by these worries most days, often for months or even longer.

GAD produces symptoms like:

  • Feeling constantly ‘on edge’ and unable to relax,
  • Muscle tension,
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep,
  • Feeling tired or easily exhausted,
  • Increased irritability, and
  • Trouble concentrating and focussing on a task.

Why do I feel this way?

GAD can be triggered by a stressful life event such as losing a job, relationship breakdowns, periods of prolonged stress or a combination of factors.

Other factors such as a family history of mental health problems, chronic physical health issues and certain personality types – such as being a perfectionist or having low self-esteem – can make it more likely that someone will develop GAD.

You are not alone

GAD is one of the most common anxiety disorders. About 6 per cent of Australians experience it at some point in their lives.

Some research suggests that GAD might be even more common in older veterans. At one stage or another, about 14 per cent of Vietnam veterans have been affected by it. Among current serving ADF members, only one in 100 have GAD .

Many people with GAD suffer from other mental health problems as well; over their lifetime, someone with GAD is about five times more likely than the average person to have depression, and twice as likely to have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

Anxiety and older veterans

Older people with anxiety often don’t do anything about it. Some don’t want to worry their family or friends, or they don’t believe in talking about mental health or admit they’re not coping.

Many older people suffer medical conditions that have symptoms similar to anxiety or take prescription medications that mask those symptoms. This makes it easy to miss or ignore the fact that anxiety is an issue.

A common anxiety problem among older adults is a fear of falling. This affects around 1-in-10 older people, and for many will mean they avoid physical activity and find it hard to take care of daily tasks like bathing or shopping.

The good news is that anxiety can be treated no matter your age.

What treatments can help?

One of the most effective treatments for GAD is cognitive behavioural therapy. Cognitive behavioural therapy recognises that the way we think and act affects the way we feel. Typically, during this therapy you will learn:

  • Relaxation strategies such as controlled breathing and muscle relaxation exercises.
  • A step-by-step problem-solving approach to help manage day-to-day problems so that they don’t seem so overwhelming.
  • Strategies to challenge negative thoughts that might be triggering and maintaining your worry (like "everything’s going wrong" or "I can’t deal with this").

The High Res website and app offers a range of interactive cognitive behavioural therapy-based tools, self-help resources and videos that can help you manage some of the symptoms of anxiety. These tools can help manage your physical reactions such as rapid breathing and pounding heartbeat.


Relax Your Body and Slow Your Breathing

Feeling constantly ‘on edge’ leads to muscle tension, fatigue, aches and pains.

The Progressive Muscle Relaxation tool teaches you to tense and relax different muscle groups in your body.

The Controlled Breathing tool teaches you how to slow your breathing rate. These tools will help you feel calmer and release tension from your body.

Use Problem Solving strategies

If you’re worried about a particular problem or situation you find yourself in, use the Problem Solving tool to help work through the problem and find the best solution.

Think about things differently

The way that we think influences the way we feel. Thinking in an unhelpful way can make you feel more tense and on edge.

Use the Stop and Swap Thoughts tool to help you to identify unhelpful thoughts and swap them with more helpful thoughts.

Starting out

When you’re starting out it’s a good idea to use these tools when your anxiety isn't too overwhelming.

Once you’ve learned the skills you can apply them to more troubling situations. With practice, you’ll be able to apply these skills day-to-day as situations arise.

These tools are available on the High Res app to use on the go.

Self-help resources

There are a number of resources you could use on your own or preferably together with your therapist to help you address some of the symptoms of GAD.


Joe’s story...

"The fact is, I’ve always been a worrier, ever since I was a kid. I’d worry about my family and my Mum and Dad (they used to fight a bit). I worried about whether there’d be enough money for me to finish school. I worried about my health – every time I had an ache or pain I was sure I was going to die. I worried about school work, parties, friends. Pretty much everything – you name it, I worried about it. And when I worried I’d get all tense, my stomach would churn, sometimes I’d even break out in a sweat."

Read Joe's story.

    Self-help isn't for everyone. If you've tried the strategies above and are still having trouble, you might benefit from getting additional support.

    Call Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS) on 1800 011 046 for free and confidential counselling support 24/7. This service is available to veterans and their family.

    This program will help you to understand anxiety and teaches you strategies and skills to reduce anxiety and associated stress

    A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome Generalise Anxiety Disorder, as they can refer you to specialists, and, if necessary, support your efforts with medications. If you are a Veteran, ask for a Veteran Health Check.