What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Worry is a regular and normal aspect of our daily lives. In most cases it is a fleeting emotion triggered by a particular situation and usually lasting for no more than a few days. For some people, however, worry becomes a life-altering and inescapable anxiety, known as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

In Britain, GAD is estimated to affect some one in 25 people. Their lives are disrupted by persistent chronic anxieties that are often irrational and are uncontrollable. This brief overview outlines the basics of GAD.

Who is at risk?

  • GAD generally takes hold in the years from childhood to the thirties. It can affect anyone but those most at risk include:
  • Those who have close relatives who have been diagnosed with GAD or who grow up in a home where a significant adult has GAD.
  • People who have a history of drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Anyone who has suffered stressful or traumatic experiences, including domestic violence or abuse.
  • Those suffering from long-term painful medical conditions like arthritis.
  • Women undergoing menopause.
  • People suffering from heart disease, hypo-thyroidism, hyper thyroidism or gastro-oesophageal reflex disease.

Causes

While statistics show who is most at risk of developing GAD, the causes of GAD are not fully understood. Indeed, in some cases there is no clear discernible cause for the onset of GAD.

Scientists believe that those parts of the brain that deal with emotions and chemicals in the brain that are associated with mood have a role to play in GAD. They are studying the likely mechanisms involved.

Stress from difficult situations, like divorce, or even from happy occasions, like a wedding, can also trigger GAD.

Symptoms

The symptoms of GAD vary from individual to individual and can be characterised as emotional, physical and behavioural:

  • Emotional symptoms include lingering, uncontrollable and irrational worries. These are accompanied by feelings of dread and an inability to stop thinking about causes of worry.
  • Physical symptoms are numerous and varied. Typically they include muscle tightness, aches and pains and trembling. Breathlessness, fatigue, insomnia and nausea are also common. You may also experience heart palpitations, excessive perspiration and headaches.
  • Behavioural symptoms are often the most easily observed by other people. Irritability and an inability to relax along with difficulty concentrating and procrastination are commonly found.

GAD sufferers may exhibit a number of these symptoms to some degree. Together they comprise a debilitating mental illness that can have a dramatic and detrimental affect on their ability to function normally in society.

It should be remembered that children, too, suffer from GAD. They have unique symptoms including a need for frequent approval and reassurance, clinginess, blaming themselves for bad things that might have happened and refusal to attend school.

Treatment

If you are suffering from GAD, then you need to seek professional help. In the first instance, you should approach your GP who will refer you to a specialist if necessary.

The usual treatment for GAD includes:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy – this is a common treatment for GAD. It involves teaching you how to recognise negative thoughts, replace them with positive alternatives and alter how you respond to given situations.
  • Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication.