The word anxiety relates to a feeling of unease, worry or even fear. Most of us have experienced feelings of anxiety before – sitting an exam, attending a job interview or having a medical test can all instill feelings of anxiety that are perfectly normal. For some people however, feeling anxious is part of everyday life and controlling their anxiety is near impossible.
Anxiety is the primary symptom in several conditions, including panic disorder and phobias – however there is also a condition called generalised anxiety disorder. What makes generalised anxiety disorder different to ‘normal worry’ is that the sense of anxiety is ongoing and tends to be out of proportion to the risk.
Generalised anxiety disorder (also referred to as GAD) is a long-term condition that causes sufferers to feel anxious about a variety of situations/issues, rather than one specific situation. Those with GAD will feel anxious most days and often catastrophize situations – for example, if their partner is late home from work, someone with GAD may think that they have been in an accident, rather than any other likely scenario (e.g. stuck in traffic).
Other characteristics of GAD include an inability to focus, loss of concentration and racing thoughts. If you have GAD your day-to-day life will be affected by your anxiety, which may impact your sleeping habits, your relationships or even your ability to hold down a job. As soon as one issue has been resolved, another one will rear its head, making it difficult for you to feel relaxed and at ease.
The condition is persistent and there may be occasions where you don’t understand why you are feeling anxious. When it comes to diagnosing GAD, it can be difficult to differentiate those with GAD and those who have a naturally nervous disposition. As a rule however, GAD is diagnosed if the symptoms of the condition are persistent and affect your day-to-day activities.
Generalised anxiety disorder causes both psychological and physical symptoms. The severity of the symptoms experienced will differ from person to person – one may feel all of the listed symptoms, while another feels just one or two. Regardless of how many of the symptoms you relate to – if your symptoms are causing you distress and are affecting your everyday life, it is time to seek professional support. Working Minds can provide this.
GAD usually causes a change in the way you behave as well as the way you think and feel about things. This can result in a sense of dread, feeling ‘on edge’, feeling restless or unable to relax, difficulty concentrating, feeling irritable, racing thoughts, intrusive thoughts about worrying scenarios.
These symptoms may cause you to avoid certain situations in order to prevent yourself from feeling anxious. This may see you withdrawing from your friends and family or from social contact altogether. Your symptoms may also make work difficult for you as it can trigger stress and anxiety, causing you to take time off. These actions can cause further worry and a low sense of self-esteem – continuing the cycle of anxiety.
Extreme anxiety can also lead to a number of physical symptoms, including feeling lightheaded or dizzy, feeling lethargic, heart palpitations, dry mouth, shortness of breath, tension headaches and difficulty sleeping/insomnia.
These physical manifestations of anxiety can often cause further worry from those with GAD, perpetuating the ongoing feeling of unease. If you are worried that your physical symptoms are not related to your anxiety disorder, don’t hesitate to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Or, if this becomes apparent during therapy with Working Minds, we will signpost you to your GP.
While other anxiety disorders, like phobias, have a specific trigger for their symptoms – those with GAD may not be clear on what it is they feel anxious about. Not knowing your trigger for anxiety can intensify the feeling and may cause you to feel as if there is no way to stop feeling anxious.
Recognising that your anxiety is negatively affecting your life is the first step to seeking help. From here you can explore your treatment options.