This is all about why you don’t have ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’

I have been working, over the last 17 years, with 1000’s of people and many of them come and see me with the “clinical diagnosis” from their doctor of ‘GAD’ (Generalised Anxiety Disorder.)

These are clients who tend to look me in the eye at the beginning of our first session and say, “I have generalised anxiety disorder, I am anxious about everything… all the time!”

So first of all can this statement actually be true? Are they actually anxious about everything all the time?

NO! Of course not…

So if you’re reading this because you have been told you have “generalised anxiety disorder” then let me ask you a question.

Does a pink toothbrush bring you out in a cold sweat? Seriously, does a pink toothbrush make your hands sweaty and your heart race?

My guess is, it doesn’t.

So what you’re saying is that everything makes you anxious apart from pink toothbrushes? Pink toothbrushes got off scot-free.

What about soft cotton wall balls? Do they freak you out too?



So what has this got to do with Generalised anxiety disorder?

Well if you told me that EVERYTHING makes you anxious that “can’t literally be true”. In fact we only need to find one thing that doesn’t make you anxious to see that the EVERYTHING claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Now please don’t misunderstand, I’m not suggesting that someone isn’t experiencing real suffering when ‘anxiety comes to town’, but the question is does real suffering mean it has really generalised everywhere and to everything?

The reality is, when someone goes to the doctors and says that there are more than 3 different scenarios where they feel their anxiety is “triggered” the doctor may slap on the label “generalised anxiety”.

Now the poor sufferer goes away and starts adding meaning to this label.

“I have generalised anxiety disorder… I actually have a “disorder” and if it’s a disorder there maybe nothing I can do about it… AND if it’s generalised I should probably expect to have it ALL the time ABOUT EVERYTHING.”

You can begin to see how this labelling could begin to spiral unhelpfully in your thinking.



Well what is going on if it’s not EVERYTHING… ALL THE TIME?

It is much more likely that we are talking about 1 or 2 very specific concerns that people have been doing a lot.

BUT that is very different from being concerned about everything, everywhere, at all times.

In fact looking for specific concerns in response to specific situations is much more empowering than telling yourself you have, “a disorder” and “it’s all the time.”

I remember one such girl who told me she had Generalised Anxiety Disorder ( which I of course very gently disputed.)

It turns out she had one specific issue. A fear of failure.

So now she felt anxious at school in lessons (she would be worried she might get something wrong. And the thought of speaking up (when out socially) was cause for concern in case someone thought she was wrong about something… plus a whole host of other examples of this specific issue impacting her life.

But is a specific issue like ‘fear of failure’ (which shows up in a bunch of different daily scenarios) the same as being anxious about everything all the time?

Certainly not.

But what about the clinical definition?

OK. So I do need to point out that the clinical definition of GAD is not quite the same as how most people take it to mean. So I do want to hold my hands up and say the phrase, “being anxious about everything all the time” is more about what the majority of sufferers claim they experience rather than what the doctor actually means.

So let’s actually take a look at what the doctors actually mean.

According to the latest “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (The DSM), Generalised Anxiety Disorder may be diagnosed when:

A. Excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).

B. The individual finds it difficult to control the worry.

C. The anxiety and worry are associated with three (or more) of the following six symptoms (with at least some symptoms having been present for more days than not for the past 6 months): Note: Only one item required in children.

  1. Restlessness, feeling keyed up or on edge.
  2. Being easily fatigued.
  3. Difficulty concentrating or mind going blank.
  4. Irritability.
  5. Muscle tension.
  6. Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep).

D. The anxiety, worry, or physical symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

E. The disturbance is not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism).

F. The disturbance is not better explained by another medical disorder (e.g., anxiety or worry about having panic attacks in panic disorder, negative evaluation in social anxiety disorder, contamination or other obsessions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, separation from attachment, figures in separation anxiety disorder, reminders of traumatic events in post-traumatic stress disorder, gaining weight in anorexia nervosa, physical complaints in somatic symptom disorder, perceived, appearance flaws in body dysmorphic disorder, having a serious illness in illness anxiety disorder, or the content of delusional beliefs in schizophrenia or delusional disorder).

So take a moment to re-read point F and realise that most of the clients I have seen who have been told they have generalised anxiety disorder, in my opinion, have symptoms that are better explained by some other ‘specific set of thinking’. Which by default would undermine that specific diagnosis.

So, if you have been diagnosed with ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’ please know that I’m not a doctor and whilst I am not officially able to diagnose or un-diagnose somebody… I can invite you to question this and to really examine your own experience.

Are you really anxious about everything all the time (including pink toothbrushes?) or do you have a few specific issues that because they seem to come up a lot it kind of feels like a lot of the time you are anxious.

Start moving away from the label ‘disorder’ and the label ‘generalised’ it certainly becomes much more likely that you can deal with a specific anxiety and have relief.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on the dangers of labels… then check out my recent blog post called, “The danger of the label ‘mental illness'”.

#generalisedanxietydisorder #anxiety #rapidchangeworks #thinkbeyondlabels

Would you like to explore how rapid changework and hypnotherapy can help you beat anxiety? If so, then schedule your FREE 15-min initial chat where we can explore how this can work for you.