Nearly everyone feels anxious from time to time, usually in an unfamiliar or stressful situation, such as important work meetings, public speaking or a first date. People with Generalised Anxiety Disorder(GAD) have these feelings of anxiety all the time without the need for a stressful situation to trigger them. Whereas normal anxiety anxiety can aid performance by helping us to feel alert and motivated, generalised anxiety often has the opposite effect, interfering with normal functioning. Anything can be a trigger for worry in those with generalised anxiety, , including work, health, relationships, financial issues, and more existential worries (including worrying about worry).
According to BeyondBlue, every year around 14% of Australians experience some form of anxiety disorder, and just under 3% have generalised anxiety. More women than men experience GAD, and while it can develop at any age, generalised anxiety disorder is more commonly found in people over 30.
Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder
If you have experienced any of the following symptoms for six months or more you may be experiencing generalised anxiety.
- Persistent worry about many different, not necessarily related things. This worry is present a good deal of the time
- Constant tension and/or restlessness
- Poor concentration
- Difficulty or inability in controlling worrying
- Restlessness feeling keyed up or on edge
- Muscle tension e.g., back/neck/jaw aches and pains, etc
- Trouble sleeping
- Constant tiredness
- Worrying makes it hard to perform everyday activities and socialise
People living with generalised anxiety disorder may also have related conditions, such as depression or Social Anxiety Disorder (the fear and avoidance of social situations). Some people with GAD may also self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, potentially leading to other physical and mental complications.
What Causes Generalised Anxiety Disorder?
There are a number of factors, biological, genetic, environmental and psychological, that can cause or contribute to the development of generalised anxiety disorder. These factors include but are not limited to:
- Family History - People living with generalised anxiety disorder often have a family history of mental health issues. Having a family history of mental health issues doesn’t guarantee GAD, and likewise, no family history doesn’t rule out the chance of developing generalised anxiety.
- Personality - There are a number of personality traits that appear to make the development of anxiety disorders including GAD more likely. Emotionally sensitive and shy people are more prone to worry, and research has shown that reserved or inhibited children are more likely to develop GAD later in life. General nervousness, an inability to tolerate frustration or failure and perfectionism are also linked to the development of GAD.
- Stressful Life Events Stress inducing life events including parenting stress, the breakup of important relationships and losing a job can contribute to the development of generalised anxiety. Traumatic childhood experiences, such as experiencing or witnessing abuse, death of a close family member , or abandonment can increase the chances of developing anxiety disorders such as GAD.
- Brain Chemistry - there are some differences in brain function and chemistry that have been identified in people with generalised anxiety including imbalances of brain chemicals, however it's currently unclear if those changes result in GAD, or if generalised anxiety is itself responsible for the changes in the brain.
Treatments for and Living With Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Treatment options for people with generalised anxiety disorder include psychological therapies and medication depending on the severity of the condition. Seeing a healthcare professional should always be the first step in a treatment plan.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - CBT is a form of therapy designed to modify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that may contribute to stress and anxiety and to provide skills to manage anxiety symptoms. During CBT sessions, people living with generalised anxiety learn to identify and challenge their anxious thoughts and replace them with more helpful ways of thinking. Relaxation strategies (e.g. ,relaxation breathing and muscle relaxation techniques) are also commonly used. CBT has been found to be the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders. is often a first line treatment for. Medication may be prescribed alongside CBT for optimal results.
Medication - There are a number of medications available for generalised anxiety, both to combat the physical symptoms of anxiety - such as muscle tension and aches, stomach cramps, stress induced headaches and high blood blood pressure - and those to control the anxiety itself. Medications prescribed for physical anxiety symptoms, commonly referred to as anti-anxiety medications are usually only prescribed for a short time as many have a high chance of developing dependence or abuse. These drugs are often used in conjunction with antidepressant medications used for long term control of anxiety. Antidepressants can take a few weeks to take effect and anti-anxiety medications can help minimise symptoms until the long term medication kicks in.
Lifestyle Changes - There are a number of lifestyle changes that can help limit the frequency and severity of anxiety symptoms. Maintaining a good sleep schedule, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help with anxiety, as can avoiding stimulants like coffee, energy drinks or some over the counter medications that contain caffeine. Integrating s self care activities such as meditation, yoga or simply taking time out to listen to music or read a book can be extremely helpful when dealing with generalised anxiety.
Alcohol can have a short term effect on lowering anxiety and helping you to feel more at ease but actually increases anxiety due to disrupting the chemical balance in your brain. Aside from the impairment that can come from consumption of alcohol, drinking can affect the efficacy of prescribed medication or can cause harmful reactions. Alcohol use can increase the severity of mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression as
If you find yourself worrying all the time and have felt this way for six months or longer, you may have generalised anxiety disorder.
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