Anxiety (worry) is a human emotion that all people experience and despite the way it makes us feel, it one that still has an important role to play in everyday life. Anxiety does not bring about a particularly pleasant experience for any of us, but without it, our ancestors would surely not have been able to avoid danger long enough (in a world far more dangerous than it is now) to reproduce or pass on their genes to the next generation.
Anxiety can be thought of as our body’s in-built warning system; it is there to help us recognise problems and to elicit an appropriate course of action. However, the world we live in today is vastly different from that of our ancestors’ and problems we face today are rarely as life threatening as they once were. Unfortunately, because our instincts cannot differentiate between something that might eat us and our next credit card bill, every deadline or demand that is placed upon us has the potential to become the next proverbial lion stalking us from the horizon. In the modern world, it is the disproportionate nature of our responses to the issues that we experience that can cause our feelings of anxiety (worry) to escalate beyond our perceived control to the point of distress.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Anxiety disorders (disorders that display anxiety as a symptom) are amongst the most prevalent psychiatric disorders in the UK (a full list of which can be found here). GAD is just one type of anxiety disorder and is characterized by levels of:
unfocused anxiety that is not linked to a specific event or area of worry
GAD is more common in women than in men, but still develops in about 1 in 50 people at some stage during their life. To be diagnosed with GAD, an individual must exhibit symptoms that are:
- Persistent (every day for longer than 6 months)
- Disruptive (they get in the way of you living your life the way you want to)
GAD shares many symptoms with other anxiety disorders and includes feeling tense, an inability to sleep, nausea, restlessness, mild heart palpitations, difficulty breathing and tiring easily. It is however the generalized and chronic nature of GAD that differentiates it from other anxiety disorders, which tend to be connected to a specific situation, event or object. In GAD, the cause of worry is often unknown, which can further exacerbate one’s anxiety.
GAD often also co-occurs with other problems such as depression, which can make it difficult to diagnose; in all instances relating to GAD, it is recommended that advice should be sought from a qualified mental health professional.
With any psychiatric disorder, accurate diagnosis as to the severity and nature of impairment is crucial to ensure that appropriate treatment can be administered. In the case of GAD, treatment should almost always start with a blend of psychotherapy, educational and self-help based interventions.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommend that in particular, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be effective for both the short and long-term treatment of GAD and also in helping to prevent relapse. For example, a CBT therapist might help an individual explore how their thoughts and feelings influence their day-to-day behaviour, confronting and replacing maladaptive thought patterns with more realistic and helpful strategies. Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness meditation can also be effective in helping to mediate the negative impact of anxiety in individuals suffering from GAD.
In some cases, medication has also been shown to effectively reduce the symptoms of GAD. However, due to the potentially adverse side effects of certain medications, and the fact it does not tackle the primary causes of GAD, it should not be prescribed in the first instance. Psychotherapeutic interventions have been shown to be equally effective and present far lower risks to the patient.
Because of its chronic and complex nature, the prognosis varies. Initial treatments even sometimes cause symptoms to temporarily worsen, and due to the relapsing/remittent nature of GAD, long term monitoring is required for effective management of a patient’s anxiety. In less severe cases, symptoms can all but be eliminated.
If you feel that your anxiety is uncontrollable/gets in the way of you living your life and has done so for a considerable period of time, you may be showing symptoms of GAD.
Should you want any advice or help relating to GAD or any anxiety disorder, please do not hesitate to call our team on 020 3887 2866 for a free 15 minute confidential chat or to arrange an appointment with an expert.