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Generalised anxiety disorder

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What is generalised anxiety disorder?

People with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) worry excessively about a number of different areas of life, such as family, health, finances, and work difficulties. People with GAD are plagued by these worries most days, for several months or more, and are also bothered by symptoms like:

  • feeling constantly ‘on edge’ and unable to relax.
  • muscle tension.
  • difficulty falling and staying asleep.
  • feeling tired or easily exhausted.
  • increased irritability.
  • 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, and other periods of prolonged stress, but it’s usually caused by a combination of factors and not just one thing.

You are not alone

GAD is one of the most common anxiety disorders. Approximately six out of 100 Australians experience it at some point in their lives. Some research suggests that GAD might be even more common in veterans; at one stage or another about 14 out of 100 Vietnam veterans have been affected by it. [1] However amongst current serving members, [2] only one in 100 have GAD currently. Many people with GAD suffer from other mental health problems as well; over their lifetime, someone with GAD is about 5 times more likely than the average person to have depression, and twice as likely to have a problem with drugs or alcohol. [3]

Anxiety and older veterans

Older people who are feeling anxious often don’t do anything about it. Some don’t want to worry their family or friends, and others don’t believe in talking about mental health or don’t want to 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, so it can be 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,[4] 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, so if you’re worrying a lot or are finding that you’re too anxious to take care of yourself or do the things you enjoy, talk to your doctor or call VVCS – Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service on 1800 011 046.

What treatments can help?

One of the most effective treatments for GAD is cognitive behavioural therapy – this approach recognises that the way we think and act affects the way we feel. During this therapy you will learn:

  • a step-by-step approach to help you manage day to day stressors 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. The High The Controlled Breathing and Progressive Muscle Relaxation tools on the High Res website and app can help manage your physical reactions such as rapid breathing and pounding heartbeat. If you’re worried about a particular problem or situation you find yourself in, the Problem Solving tool can help you work though the problem and find solutions.

It is generally best to start with psychological treatment, however some people need a little extra help to get their anxiety under control, so your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medication to help you manage.

Where do I get help?

  • A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome GAD, as he or she can make referrals for specialists, and support your efforts with medications if necessary.
  • This website has information on a range of professional care that is available to current and former serving members.

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.

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 more of Joe's story here


[1] O'Toole, B. I., Marshall, R. P., Grayson, D. A., Schureck, R. J., Dobson, M., Ffrench, M., . . . Vennard, J. (1996). The Australian Vietnam veterans health study: III. Psychological health of Australian Vietnam veterans and its relationship to combat. International Journal of Epidemiology, 25, 331-339.

[2] McFarlane, A. C., Hodson, S. E., Van Hooff, M., & Davies, C. (2011). Mental health in the Australian Defence Force: 2010 ADF Mental Health and Wellbeing Study: Full report. Canberra: Department of Defence.

[3] Merikangas, K.R., Swanson, S.A. (2010). Comorbidity in anxiety disorders. Behavioural Neurobiology of Anxiety and Its Treatment, 37-59.

[4] website-anxious about falling.


  • If you’ve tried counselling and didn’t like it, talk to your health care provider about what you want changed or ask for a different counsellor.




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