For me, anxiety feels as if everyone in the world is waiting for me to trip up, so that they can laugh at me. It makes me feel nervous and unsure whether the next step I take is the best way forward. (s.t)
We all worry from time to time; there will be times and situations in your life that will cause some anxiety – this is normal. In its ‘normal’ form, anxiety can be helpful, as it makes us focus on the situation at hand and gives us the adrenaline boost we need to deal with what is happening in our lives at that moment. However, excessive anxiety can work against us, causing concentration problems and sleep disturbances; it becomes a concern when the anxiety doesn’t go away after the situation has resolved itself.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is the name given to the ‘constant feeling of anxiety’ a person feels; it is often known as ‘chronic worrying.’ The main point that makes GAD different to ‘normal’ anxiety is that the ‘worry’ is prolonged (over six months) and the level of worry is out of proportion to the risk. For example, if a partner is an hour late from work (without calling) a GAD sufferer may think ‘they must have had an accident’, rather than any other just as likely scenario, e.g. ‘they have been delayed in traffic.’ These thoughts can be described as ‘catastrophising,’ or jumping to the worst possible conclusion.
With GAD, people can worry about all sorts of life’s problems, but the intensity, frequency and the uncontrollability of the thoughts can be very debilitating, making it difficult to carry out daily tasks. GAD can be a particularly difficult disorder to live with as it is constantly on the person’s mind – there is no respite as the anxiety is not tied to a specific situation or event. It can cause problems with sleep, ability to maintain a job as well as impact close relationships.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder can affect you mentally and physically
How severe the symptoms are varies from person to person. Some people have only one or two symptoms, while others have many more.
GAD can cause a change in your behaviour and the way you think and feel about things, resulting in symptoms such as:
- a sense of dread
- feeling constantly “on edge”
- difficulty concentrating
Your symptoms may cause you to withdraw from social contact (seeing your family and friends) to avoid feelings of worry and dread. You may also find going to work difficult and stressful, and may take time off sick. These actions can make you worry even more about yourself; some people find themselves lying to their loved ones about how they’re really feeling to avoid others worrying about them too.
GAD can also have a number of physical symptoms, including:
- a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- muscle aches and tension
- trembling or shaking
- dry mouth
- excessive sweating
- shortness of breath
- stomach ache
- feeling sick
- pins and needles
- difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
You should see your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or is causing you distress.
What are the long-term effects of anxiety?
If you have felt anxious for a long time or you’re frequently anxious, you may experience additional effects in your mind and body, such as:
- problems sleeping
- lowered immune system, which might make you more susceptible to certain physical illnesses
- smoking or drinking a lot, or misusing drugs (recreational or prescribed) to cope
- a change in your sex drive
You might also have difficulty with everyday aspects of your life, such as:
- holding down a job
- developing or maintaining relationships
- simply enjoying your leisure time
How can I help myself cope?
If you experience anxiety or panic attacks there are many things you can do to help yourself cope. You can try:
- talking to someone you trust
- breathing exercises, mindfulness or meditation
- something creative, like knitting, painting, colouring, making something.
- listening to music
- positive affirmations
- physical exercise
- writing in a journal
- eating a healthy diet
- joining a support group
Anxiety is a fear based reaction; your body is telling you that there’s something in your life that you need to be afraid of. With GAD it can be difficult to pinpoint what it is exactly that is triggering the anxiety, which is why psychotherapy can be a very helpful option. The therapist can work with you to find out when and where you first started noticing your anxious feelings and what your anxiety is linked to, and then use CBT to change your thinking pattern and introduce new ways of coping with life’s stresses.
A common – and natural – response to anxiety is to avoid what triggers your fear, so taking any action might make you feel more anxious at first. It can be difficult, but facing up to how anxiety makes you feel can be the first step in breaking the cycle of fear and insecurity.