August 2018 – General Anxiety – The Guildford Psychologist

It is common for me to receive a phone call from someone asking for help with anxiety. However, anxiety difficulties span a number of areas. These include: general anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety and health anxiety. All of these come under the “anxiety disorders” bracket according to medical classifications.

The former of these – general anxiety – is otherwise known as ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Broadly speaking, this is when someone experiences anxiety a lot of the time, about many different things. Positively, there is a wealth of research showing how cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help.

There are two parts to CBT – an assessment part and a treatment part. During the assessment phase my aim is to understand the factors that have caused, and are maintaining a person’s anxiety. In this blog I would like to touch on research that has helped identify what behaviours typically maintain GAD.


It has been suggested for some time that unhelpful behaviours contribute to the maintenance of GAD. This year, research by Alison Mahoney and her colleagues has helped suggest what these behaviours commonly are. Their research also suggests that although there is overlap between the behaviours in GAD and depression, there are distinct differences.

In their research, they suggest that the maintaining behaviours in GAD fall into two brackets. These are ‘Safety Behaviours’ and ‘Avoidance’. ‘Safety Behaviours’ can be defined as behaviours that we do to keep ourselves safe from a perceived danger, but inadvertently maintain our anxiety in the long-term. Their research found that the most common safety behaviours were ‘keeping a close watch for anything bad that could happen’ and ‘checking to make sure nothing bad has happened or that everything is okay’. They also found the most common avoidance behaviours were ‘avoiding situations or people that worry me’ and ‘avoiding saying or doing things that worry me’. During our assessment, I’ll try and investigate what these ‘situations’, ‘things’ or ‘people’ are for the person opposite me.


If you are someone who is experiencing anxiety, then identifying the behaviours that maintain your anxiety can also help us understand what thoughts are maintaining the problem. To help with this, I’d be curious about the thoughts that are causing you to keep close watch or avoiding. Sometimes it could be a fear of something bad happening to someone. Sometimes it could be a fear of letting someone down, or being rejected. Other times it could be a lack of confidence in being able to problem solve – so wanting to ensure no problems occur in the first place. And sometimes, the reasons are not clear and it is just a ‘feeling’ that something bad may occur. Whatever the reason, my aim is to work with you to help you move forward.

As always, if you have any questions about this blog, please do not hesitate to contact me.