Understanding Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

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It’s normal to feel anxious, especially in times of stress or particularly challenging situations. Anything from an exam to a looming deadline can all trigger anxious feelings, but persistent and invasive feelings of anxiety could be a sign of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Though GAD is a relatively common disorder, it’s often misunderstood and confused with other types of anxiety. In this blog post, we’ll be taking a closer look at GAD and the kinds of treatment available.

What Is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder is characterised by a constant flurry of intrusive and negative thoughts, causing excessive worry for no apparent reason. Often, these worries surround everyday circumstances which, in hindsight, don’t pose any danger or threat at all. Despite this, people with GAD worry about things that are out of their control and usually fixate on catastrophic events or imagined scenarios.

Some common worries include nuclear war, family members dying, work or school performance, safety, and a fear of social situations. Other catastrophic events that people with GAD may worry about include plane crashes and natural disasters. Unlike normal feelings of anxiety that we all experience from time to time, a generalised anxiety disorder can cause significant distress and physical symptoms, often dominating a person’s day-to-day life and making everyday tasks difficult to complete.

GAD often co-exists with other mood disorders such as depression and usually develops by early adulthood. There are lots of different types of anxiety disorders – all with their own unique set of symptoms and triggers. Some of the most common anxiety disorders include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Though everyone will experience generalised anxiety disorder differently, there are a few common symptoms to look out for, including:

  • Constant worries about imagined or real scenarios, often blown out of proportion
  • Overthinking simple plans
  • Finding it difficult to deal with uncertainty or a need to always be ‘in control’ of the situation
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to focus on the present
  • Inability to relax and wind down
  • Trouble concentrating and completing simple tasks

Physical symptoms can also include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Muscle tension 
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Stomach aches
  • Nervousness
  • Increased heart rate

Children and adults will experience similar symptoms, although children tend to have worries related to school, friendships, and their performance. If you believe that you or someone you know may be struggling with anxiety disorder, seek professional help as soon as possible. The earlier the problem can be addressed, the easier it will be to manage symptoms and tackle the challenges of day-to-day life with ease.

Causes of Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Though there’s no one exact cause of generalised anxiety disorder, it’s believed that the condition develops as a result of environmental factors and biological factors. Some of the most common environmental and genetic factors include a family history of mental health problems. Substance abuse can also trigger GAD. 

Risk Factors and Triggers for Generalised Anxiety Disorder

There are a few risk factors that can increase your chances of developing generalised anxiety disorder, including:

  • Underlying mental health conditions such as depression
  • Chronic illness
  • Traumatic and stressful situations
  • Certain personality traits (people who avoid danger and are timid are more likely to develop generalised anxiety disorder)
  • Family history of mental health disorders and/or GAD

How Is Generalised Anxiety Disorder Diagnosed?

Before you make an appointment, run yourself by these questions and see how many apply to your situation:

  • You feel like you worry excessively, even about small things and it’s having an impact on your day-to-day life (work, family, relationships, and social life)
  • You have other underlying mental health disorders or a history of substance abuse
  • You have suicidal thoughts and tendencies (if this is the case, seek help immediately).

If you check one or more of those boxes, then it’s probably a good idea to get a proper diagnosis and check-up from a mental health professional. This will ensure you receive the correct diagnosis for your condition and an appropriate line of treatment that suits your medical history and unique preferences. 

How Is Generalised Anxiety Disorder Treated?

The best treatment approach for generalised anxiety disorders will include a combination of therapy and medication. Let’s take a closer look at these two treatment options below.

Medication

Though medication can’t actually cure generalised anxiety disorder, it can help ease symptoms and treat GAD so that it’s manageable and easy enough to cope with on a day-to-day basis. If needed, your doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines which are often only used as a short-term treatment. Benzodiazepines can help calm your nerves and produce a sedative effect, making you feel relaxed and at ease. Other anti-anxiety medication includes specific antidepressants such as duloxetine and fluoxetine. Oftentimes, you’ll be prescribed both antidepressants and benzodiazepines and switch from the former to the latter over a few weeks.

Your doctor will monitor your medication to ensure you’re not experiencing any uncomfortable side effects.

GAD

Cognitive-behavioural Therapy

Also known as talk-therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is used to help ease anxiety symptoms by focusing on changing negative thought patterns and behaviours. During sessions, your therapist will walk through your GAD and your triggers, helping you better understand your condition and recognise damaging behaviours. 

Family Therapy

Family therapy is a great way to let your family members know more about your mental health condition, how it affects you, and your triggers. It also gives your family the chance to open up and voice any mental health concerns they may have. Even if arguments or slight disagreements arise, sessions will always be led by a therapist who can help guide conversations.

What Happens if Generalised Anxiety Disorder Is Left Untreated?

If you believe that you have generalised anxiety disorder, it’s best to seek the appropriate treatment and care as soon as possible. Not only will this put you on the path to your recovery journey, but it will also equip you with the tools and knowledge needed to manage your triggers and better cope with your anxiety.

Left untreated, generalised anxiety disorder can lead to complications such as:

  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Lack of energy
  • Impaired work performance

Generalised anxiety disorder can also cause physical complications if left untreated, including:

  • Bowel problems 
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Heart-health problems

Tips for Living With Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Though there’s no set way to actually prevent generalised anxiety disorder, there are a few lifestyle changes and healthy habits you can incorporate into your day-to-day life to ease symptoms and make your condition more manageable.

Journaling: Putting pen to paper and getting your thoughts on the page can help relieve feelings of stress and way, as well as serving as a great creative outlet. Some people find that journaling also helps them make sense of their feelings, emotions, and behaviours.

Get enough sleep: It might seem simple enough, but a good night’s sleep (seven hours minimum) will go a long way in improving your mood.

Healthy diet and exercise: Try to stick to a healthy and balanced diet with regular exercise. Steer clear of drugs, excessive alcohol use, and too much caffeine – these substances can all worsen your anxiety disorder.

Mindfulness and mediation: Spend a few minutes each day practising some mindfulness and mediation. These serve as great relaxation techniques, helping you unwind and focus on the present.

Support groups: Join a support group for people with generalised anxiety disorder and try to open up and make new friends. Not only will you be surrounded by others on a similar journey to your own, but you’ll be able to support and lift each other up in moments of stress and worry.

Caring Mental Health Treatment at The Wave

Here at The Wave, we understand just how difficult it can be to live with generalised anxiety disorder and the impact it can have on Young People’s daily lives. We’re not here to judge you – we’re here to treat you and help you become the best version of yourself. We primarily work with Young People, so will always strive to provide a truly compassionate level of care. Alongside GAD and other anxiety disorders, we also treat a wide range of mental health conditions. No matter what your needs are, we’ll work with you to draft up a personalised treatment plan that suits your unique needs and medical history.

If you’d like more information, get in touch with our care team. They’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have and will walk you through the admissions process.

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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