7 things you need to know about Generalised Anxiety Disorder
First appeared on Netdoctor website (http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/mental-health/a27965/generalised-anxiety-disorder-symptoms/)
Many people think Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is just a wooly diagnosis given to a person who can’t stop fretting. Yet GAD symptoms can vary hugely in their severity and scope. It’s more complicated than just feeling nervous, preoccupied or even grumpy and is characterised by an excessive worrying, an inability to switch off and feeling out of control.
1. There’s nothing you can do to help GAD: MYTH!
It’s true that GAD can last a long time but it’s also true that it responds well to treatment. “Worrying is a habit and thus it’s something you can improve upon,” says Chloe Brotheridge, Hypnotherapist and Author of The Anxiety Solution’ (http://www.calmer-you.com/). Doctors often recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for GAD but if the waiting list is long there’s still a lot you can do help yourself, such as exercise. “It sounds overly simple,” Brotheridge admits, “but exercise helps to move out of your head and remove tension in your body as well as burn off the excess adrenalin.” Meditation can also be transformative, says Psychotherapist Hilda Burke (http://hildaburke.co.uk/) who frequently sees GAD sufferers in her West London clinic. “I tell my clients to just start with 90 seconds of sitting still, quietly letting the anxieties pass them by.”
2. Because it’s ‘generalised’, GAD isn’t really that bad – MYTH!
GAD can become really incapacitating and terrifying. “When it’s really bad I feel a continual sense of dread – as if something bad is going to happen but I don’t know what,” says 30-year-old GAD sufferer, Rosie Martin. “It’s like walking down a dark alley at nighttime and at the same time waiting at the top of a rollercoaster and at the same time about to go to into a job interview.” GAD can hop from issue to issue too, and often attaches to many things at the same time. Psychotherapist, Burke clarifies: “Someone suffering with GAD will often develop a hyper alertness, looking for signs of threat anywhere, ie. a partner leaving, a pet dying, their boss firing them… Even having imperfect skin can provoke major anxiety.”
3. GAD is very common – FACT!
Would you believe that 1 in 20 of us will experience GAD at some time in our lives? According to official statistics from Anxiety UK (www.anxietyuk.org.uk) GAD is more prevalent in women than men and is the most common anxiety disorder in people older than 55 years. Three out of five people with GAD will also experience depression, and a similar proportion will also experience other anxiety disorders in addition to GAD. It can affect younger people too. “I had my first attack aged 16,” says Rosie. “Most people I know with similar symptoms also first experienced them during puberty, due to hormonal fluctuations and other big changes that take place in adolescence.”
4. It’s really obvious when you’ve got GAD – MYTH!
Often described as a ‘background illness’, GAD can hide in plain sight. It’s often disguised by euphemisms like ‘it’s a busy time, I’m stressed / I’ve got a lot on my mind’. It can also become normalised, depending on who you hang around with. You’re actually five times more likely to develop anxiety if you have a close relative with the condition / are genetically prone, say NHS experts (http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/anxiety/pages/introduction.aspx). Burke agrees: “If you’ve grown up alongside a mother or father who was always stressed and worried then a high level of anxiety may be ordinary for you. In many cases it’s only when you come into relationship with someone for whom that’s not normal that your excessive worrying is pointed out.”
5. GAD can attempt to protect us from deeper fears: FACT!
To some extent GAD develops as an imperfect way of keeping us safe. “People see anxiety like this as a negative or something that holds them back or causes them to stress,” says Burke: “But often there’s a part of the mind that wants to be anxious, and a reason why a person has gone into that state, such as to distract from buried, untreated trauma or a fear of the void / empty space. “Sometimes it’s about asking ‘what would you think about if you didn’t worry about your health or work, for example?” says Burke: “It’s not necessarily a conscious thing – but underneath anxiety there’s often a fear of death. Once we talk about that and break the stigma, things can ease.”
6. GAD has no real physical symptoms – MYTH!
Racing heart, shaking, restlessness, fatigue… These are all typical symptoms of GAD according to Anxiety UK. “I get butterflies in my stomach, nausea, headaches and my limbs often feel heavy – like I’m walking through syrup,” says Rosie. Even digestive problems can become an issue because the mind affects the body and vice-versa. Anxiety can develop into a very vicious cycle. “When we’re anxious we produce more adrenalin and go into what’s known as ‘fight or flight mode’,” says Hypnotherapist Brotheridge: “The part of the brain called the amygdala becomes more active, in order to try and keep us safe from what we perceive as a threat. Yet with anxiety, we’re interpreting situations as threatening when they aren’t necessarily so. Then [stress hormones like] adrenaline and cortisol will produce the physical sensations that can make your mind and heart race.”
7. It’s not possible to simply ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘snap out of’ GAD – FACT!
GAD is hardly the same as feeling a bit grumpy – you can’t just tell yourself to stop it and it’s gone because it’s as much a physical reaction as a mental one and the body reacts to a perceived threat in the same way as a real one. That’s not to say however that simple, calming acts can’t help to bring you down from a heightened state. “Just a cup of tea in the bath, hanging out with my cat, getting into bed with a book can help,” says Martin. “Being gently encouraged to do such gentle things is helpful. Being forced to is definitely not.”
– By Lucy Fry