Worry is a fact of life and is one of the body's defensive mechanisms. But for people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) these worries are exaggerated and persistent.
Excessive worry lasting for six months or more is usually diagnosed as GAD. This over-concern leads to anxiety and manifests itself in a number of ways.
GAD is unlike what might be called normal worry. Rather than a temporary sense of unease, GAD is characterised by an excessive and persistent anxiety that intrudes on your daily life and becomes debilitating. It is uncontrollable, distressing and does not go away.
The symptoms of GAD vary from person to person and often fluctuate, with differences occurring at different times of day and varying from day to day. There is usually a combination of symptoms that includes emotional (or psychological), physical and behavioural aspects.
Emotional or psychological symptoms
The emotional symptoms of GAD are possibly the most difficult for other people to see, as they are the inner feelings of the sufferer. Typically they include:
- Constant, often irrational worries, that linger on and on and that you feel unable to control.
- A constant, inescapable feeling of dread.
- An inability to stop thinking about things that cause you to worry.
- An intolerance of uncertainty, especially about the future.
There are a number of physical symptoms of GAD. These symptoms may also be indicative of other problems so it is important to consult a doctor to get a proper diagnosis. The following symptoms, however, are often present:
- Muscles feel tight or ache and the body generally feels as if it is a state of tension.
- The body trembles or shakes.
- Feeling nauseas and dizzy.
- Hot flushes and excessive perspiration.
- Stomach pains and diarrhoea.
- Irregular heartbeat or palpitations.
- Tiredness and lack of energy.
GAD can affect the behaviour of sufferers in a number of ways. They can affect the sufferer's ability to function normally in society and frequently include:
- The avoidance of places or situations that might trigger or exacerbate feelings of anxiety.
- A tendency to procrastinate.
- Irritability and frequent fidgeting that makes it difficult to relax.
- Difficulty concentrating.
Children with GAD often worry excessively about school, social acceptance, family and so on. But unlike adults, they frequently don't realise the depth of their worry is out of proportion to the situation. Symptoms of GAD in children mirror those in adults but often also include:
- A constant need for reassurance and approval.
- Clingy behaviour.
- Feelings of guilt for bad occurrences.
- A refusal to go to school.
- Irrational fears about personal safety and that of close family members.
- Perfectionist tendencies and a fear of making mistakes.
If you or a loved one exhibit these symptoms
These symptoms taken together might be indicative of GAD, especially if they persist for six months or more. But many of these symptoms are also common to other complaints, so it is vital that you seek help from a medical professional; this will normally be your GP in the first instance. If GAD is diagnosed, then you will probably be referred for specialist treatment.