Generalized anxiety disorder
If a person suspects that he / she or a loved one is suffering from generalized anxiety disorder, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and to enlist the help of a professional as soon as possible.



Healthy anxiety develops into an anxiety disorder when it starts to negatively impact one's life, such as:

  1. to reduce your productivity;
  2. to cause you to be unable to function as in the past in your everyday life; and / or
  3. to cause pain and problems in your body.

People who suffer from generalized anxiety disorder often also have a low self-esteem and are sensitive to criticism, rejection or being ignored. They usually have poor coping skills and tend to go to extremes to avoid situations that make them anxious. Poor coping mechanisms can make them vulnerable to other mental health problems, e.g. addiction.

Did you know?
About three to eight percent (3-8%) of adults in South Africa will experience generalized anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
Most people with general anxiety disorder say that they have been struggling with excessive anxiety all their lives. Symptoms can start early in life and worsen during stressful times.


What are the symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder?

The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), which is widely accepted as the most authoritative source worldwide.

The symptoms differ from person to person. Some people will experience more cognitive symptoms (concentration, thinking, memory), while others will experience more physical symptoms (muscle, stomach, digestion, pain) or a combination.

The symptoms largely involve:

  1. anxious feeling and constant worried to be; and
  2. all the time too expect something to happen only.

To be diagnosable, the anxiety or worry should at least six months be present for a long time and in different contexts (eg at home, work, school, etc.)

Note that an official diagnosis may only be made by a qualified person.
The symptoms should not be the result of other physical conditions, such as illness or the use of drugs.
  1. It is difficult to control the worry. This feel as if the anxiety and worry take over and cannot be controlled. Even if one thinks of something else, the "tension" is still present.
  2. The anxiety and worry are related to at least three of the following symptoms that at least six months have been present for a long time:
    1. restlessness, an “on the edge” feeling (It feels like you are upset and unable to relax. You are virtually chronically focused on something bad that is going to happen.);
    2. becomes easily exhausted and struggles with fatigue (You easily get tired, tired than one would normally expect from the situation or activity and it feels as if you do not have enough energy.);
    3. struggle to concentrate (Some people say their head feels dull or "foggy"; their minds wander easily and they struggle to focus on something and / or remember facts.);
    4. irritability (Because one feels so “on the edge”, you easily get upset when something unexpected happens or not the way you want it. You can then become irritated or scratchy.);
    5. muscle tension (Many people carry their tension in their body and will typically struggle with muscle spasms in their shoulders or back.); and / or
    6. a disturbance in the sleep pattern (Someone struggles to fall asleep, wakes up frequently, has difficulty sleeping through, sleeps restlessly and / or gets up tired.).
  3. The symptoms have a negative effect on a person's functioning and cause discomfort.
  4. The symptoms are not better explained by another disorder, e.g. post-traumatic stress, a phobia, depression, an eating disorder or schizophrenia.

Although it does not form part of the diagnosis, we do see in our practice that clients who struggle with generalized anxiety also sometimes experience problems with their stomach and / or digestion. Anxiety can sometimes also have an effect on excretion, e.g. constipation or symptoms similar to diarrhea. There are also regular customers who mention that they become nauseous or vomit from anxiety. Physical pains can also appear or worsen.


Treatment of generalized anxiety disorder

Why is treatment necessary for generalized anxiety disorder?
Generalized anxiety disorder can be successfully treated, but then professional treatment is required. The condition rarely clears itself. Without treatment, symptoms can worsen and lead to medical / physical problems. Untreated anxiety can also make you vulnerable to other mental states eg. addiction en eating disorders.

What would a general anxiety treatment plan look like?

From an integrated approach, we usually propose a combination of the following strategies:

A psychiatric condition or diagnosis is never an excuse for inappropriate or inappropriate behavior. The diagnosis is meant to help someone better understand themselves and get the appropriate treatment for it so that they can learn to manage themselves in a healthy way.
Did you know?
Common anxiety is more common among women than men.
  1. Diagnosis
    An accurate diagnosis is very important. Therefore, start by requesting a complete medical examination from your GP to make sure there is no medical explanation for your symptoms; if not, the next step is to make an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist, who can fully assess and diagnose you.
  2. Medication
    The first step is usually medication, which is prescribed by a family doctor or psychiatrist or, if you cannot afford it, by a medical practitioner at any general hospital's casualty department or clinic.
  3. Therapies
    Along with medication, the help and support of a registered (clinical, counseling and sometimes educational) psychologist, registered counselor or even a spiritual leader or trusted, trained, counselor in your community is extremely important. Medication is highly successful in treating anxiety disorder and works the fastest, but in the long run it is worth learning within a therapeutic relationship to understand and manage your anxiety.
  4. Support groups
    A support group can be invaluable for someone suffering from an anxiety disorder. Within the group, people share their “stories” and challenges and learn from each other's skills and experiences. However, it is not always easy to find a support group in one's area. Online searches sometimes return good results. More information can be found on the SADAG website found.
  5. Lifestyle
    Managing anxiety effectively usually requires a healthy, balanced lifestyle. This means that time is devoted to self-care. Regular exercise or physical activities such as walking or jogging, time to relax and a balanced diet are usually suggested. Certain foods (eg caffeine), medications (eg stimulants) and drugs (eg alcohol) can aggravate anxiety and should therefore be limited.

Does this mean that people who do not have access to medication, or cannot afford it, can do nothing about an anxiety condition?
Not necessarily. One can combat anxiety through a healthy lifestyle, meditation and physical exercise, which is actually ideal. Such a lifestyle only takes longer than medication to control the symptoms. Basic medications for generalized anxiety disorders are also relatively inexpensive.

Note: Although there are numerous safe options for anxiety medication, certain medications, e.g. benzodiazepines, extremely addictive and should therefore in ALL cases only be prescribed by a doctor. It is also EXTREMELY important that it is taken exactly as prescribed, and never more than the prescribed dose.

If someone is susceptible to addiction, it is crucial that the doctor or medical practitioner is informed.


Do you or a loved one have a problem with anxiety?

Follow the link to the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) below, which may give an indication. Please remember that only a registered psychologist can make a diagnosis.

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Read more about general anxiety:

  1. Chronic Anxiety: Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Mixed-Depression. Ronald M. Rapee and David H. Barlow (Eds). Guilford Press, 1991.
  2. Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosis, Treatment and Its Relationship to Other Anxiety Disorders. David Nutt, Spilios Argyropoulos and Sam Forshall. Bladwell Science Inc., 1999.
  3. Overcoming Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Client Manual. John White. New Harbinger Publications, 1999.
A psychiatric condition or diagnosis is never an excuse for inappropriate or inappropriate behavior. The diagnosis is meant to help someone better understand themselves and get the appropriate treatment for it so that they can learn to manage their mental state in a healthy way.
If a person suspects that he / she or a loved one is suffering from an anxiety disorder, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and call a professional for help as soon as possible.

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If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?