Anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorder, also known as generalised anxiety disorder or GAD, is a long-term condition which affects up to a fifth of adults in the UK according to the Office for National Statistics.

What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

The majority of people experience anxiety at some level – it is a normal human emotion. However, for some people, feelings of worry and anxiety can become so frequent that they impact their everyday life and ability to function. For example, a situation that may worry the average person for a short period, such as a disturbing news article, may cause a GAD sufferer to worry for days, lose sleep, and establish irrational fears for themselves and / or loved ones.  


People who suffer with anxiety disorder may worry excessively about all aspects of life; finances, work, family, friends, social situations, relationships. Even being able to get through the demands of the day can cause anxiety that becomes mentally and physically exhausting.

It is also common for people with generalised anxiety disorder to have depression, or other anxiety-related disorders such as panic attacks or obsessive-compulsive disorder (where you have uncontrollable reoccurring thoughts or obsessions and perform deliberate repetitive actions or compulsions).

GAD can affect anyone at any time in life and although the risk is highest in the 50-54 age group, recent studies found evidence of anxiety or depression in 19% of people aged 16 or over, with 21% of women reporting the symptoms and 16% of men.

Most people with GAD experience fluctuating anxiety levels so they can function perfectly well both socially and professionally when their anxiety level is mild, but struggle to carry out the simplest tasks or even get out of bed when anxiety levels are high.


Causes of GAD

It is not fully understood what causes GAD, but it is known that several contributing factors may lead to its development including:

  • Genetics: A family history of anxiety or depression may increase your likelihood of developing GAD.

  • Stress: Recent trauma or prolonged exposure to stress (eg. through work or illness).

  • Brain chemistry: Chemical imbalances in the brain and abnormal functioning of certain nerve cell pathways which influence ‘mood’.

  • Excessive use of caffeine or tobacco can heighten existing anxiety.

Research is ongoing as scientists seek to better understand anxiety disorder and develop treatment to improve the conditions for sufferers.


Symptoms of GAD

Generalised anxiety disorder symptoms can come on gradually or present very quickly without warning. Behavioural changes are common and sufferers may begin to withdraw from social contact.  Symptoms can vary according to the individual but range between the psychological and physical such as:


  • Restlessness, unable to relax, shortness of breath.

  • A sense of dread / expecting the worst.

  • Feeling irritable, jumpy and ‘on edge’.

  • Unable to be alone.

  • Wanting to always be alone or avoiding social situations.

  • Difficulty focusing on tasks or concentrating.

  • Insomnia or poor sleeping patterns.

  • Nausea, diarrhoea and stomach problems.

  • A need to know what’s going to happen / need to plan ahead.

  • Impatient and easily distracted.

  • Dizziness, light-headedness and headaches.

  • Excessive sweating.

  • Heart palpitations.

  • Dry mouth.

  • Painful or missed periods

…. and many more.


Treatment of GAD

There is a vast array of treatments available for people who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder and each individual case should be assessed by a doctor, mental health specialist or therapist to find the best treatment for you.

There are lots of choices you can make to help yourself including diet, exercise, meditation and therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and counselling.

For some people medication can significantly improve the symptoms of GAD but this should always be prescribed in consultation with a GP or consultant psychiatrist and any changes in dose or stopping medication should be made with their input.

For more information, reference materials and support visit AnxietyUK or Mind.

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