An Examination of Distress Intolerance in Undergraduate Students High in Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

  • MacDonald E
  • Pawluk E
  • Koerner N
 et al. 
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People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) engage in maladaptive coping strategies to reduce or avoid distress. Evidence suggests that uncertainty and negative emotions are triggers for distress in people with GAD; however, there may also be other triggers. Recent conceptualizations have highlighted six types of experiences that people report having difficulty withstanding: uncertainty, negative emotions, ambiguity, frustration, physical discomfort, and the perceived consequences of anxious arousal. The present study examined the extent to which individuals high in symptoms of GAD are intolerant of these distress triggers, compared to individuals high in depressive symptoms, and individuals who are low in GAD and depressive symptoms. Undergraduate students (N = 217) completed self-report measures of GAD symptoms, depressive symptoms, and distress intolerance. Individuals high in GAD symptoms reported greater intolerance of all of the distress triggers compared to people low in symptoms of GAD and depression. Individuals high in GAD symptoms reported greater intolerance of physical discomfort compared to those high in depressive symptoms. Furthermore, intolerance of physical discomfort was the best unique correlate of GAD status, suggesting that it may be specific to GAD (versus depression). These findings support continued investigation of the transdiagnosticity and specificity of distress intolerance.

Author-supplied keywords

  • depression
  • distress intolerance
  • generalized anxiety disorder
  • psychopathology

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  • Emma M. MacDonald

  • Elizabeth J. Pawluk

  • Naomi Koerner

  • Alasdair M. Goodwill

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