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What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is a collection of one-page information handouts for common mental health conditions. Friendly and explanatory, handouts in the series describe how it can feel to struggle with a difficulty and are reliable sources of information for your clients. Drawing upon established cognitive behavioral models, each handout has a particular focus on maintaining factors that might prevent the problem from getting better. What Is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)? is designed to help clients with GAD to understand more about their condition.

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Languages this resource is available in

  • English (GB)
  • English (US)
  • Polish
  • Spanish (International)
  • Vietnamese

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Introduction & Theoretical Background

It is common to worry sometimes, but people who worry too much often find it exhausting, and it may affect their health. Psychologists call this generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and they think that between 2 and 6 people out of every 100 experience GAD every year. The good news is that there are effective psychological treatments for GAD. The What Is Generalized Anxiety? information handout is designed to help clients with GAD understand more about their condition. It includes:

  • A summary of the most common symptoms of GAD.
  • Descriptions of what it can feel like to have GAD.
  • A description of why GAD might not get better by itself, derived from Dugas’ and Wells’ cognitive models of GAD.
  • A brief overview of evidence-based psychological treatments for GAD.

Therapist Guidance

Our ‘What Is … ?’ series is designed to support your clients:
  • Reassure and encourage optimism. Many clients find it hugely reassuring to know there is a name for what they are experiencing, and that there are evidence-based psychological models and treatments specifically designed to help.
  • Scaffold knowledge. The handouts are perfect during early stages of therapy to help your clients understand how their symptoms fit together and make sense.
  • Signposting. If you’re just seeing a client briefly for assessment, or you have a curious client who wants to know more, these resources can be a helpful part of guiding them to the right service.

References And Further Reading

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). American Psychiatric Pub.
  • Dugas, M. J., Gagnon, F., Ladouceur, R., & Freeston, M. H. (1998). Generalized anxiety disorder: A preliminary test of a conceptual model. Behavior Research and Therapy, 36(2), 215-226.
  • Hebert, E. A., & Dugas, M. J. (2019). Behavioral experiments for intolerance of uncertainty: challenging the unknown in the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 26(2), 421-436.
  • Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and co-morbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617-627.
  • National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia) in adults: management in primary, secondary and community care. 2011. (Clinical guideline 113.)
  • Wells, A. (1999). A cognitive model of generalized anxiety disorder. Behavior modification, 23(4), 526-555.
  • World Health Organization. (2019). ICD-11: International classification of diseases (11th revision). Retrieved from