Many people talk about feeling anxious. Anxiety is in fact one of the most common presenting issues in the consulting room. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life. We all feel anxious about certain things like sitting an exam, going for an interview, starting a new school or a job, having a medical test or going into hospital. During times like these feeling anxious is perfectly normal.

Anxiety in many ways keeps us safe. When we cross a busy road we of course feel a bit anxious, but that ensures we adhere to a safe way of crossing the road. It’s when our anxiety takes over our lives and we worry about everything to the point where we can’t function well that it becomes a problem. Some people find it much harder than others to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are constant and more extreme and they always think the worst is about to happen. This can mean never being able to relax and can often affect everything in their daily lives.

The blog is about Generalised Anxiety Disorder ( GAD) which is a common condition and it is estimated to affect up to 5% of the UK population. Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is more common in people from the ages of 35 to 59. GAD is a long-term condition that causes people to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues rather then just one specific event.

What causes generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)?

The exact cause of GAD is not fully understood, although it’s likely that a combination of several factors plays a role.

Research has suggested that these may include:

  • Overactivity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour
  • An imbalance of the brain chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline, which are involved in the control and regulation of mood
  • The genes you inherit from your parents – you’re estimated to be 5 times more likely to develop GAD if you have a close relative with the condition
  • Having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying

Symptoms vary from person to person, but can include:

  • Feeling constantly restless or worried
  • Having trouble concentrating or sleeping
  • Dizziness and feeling nauseous
  • Heart palpitations
  • Having a painful long-term health condition
  • Having a history of drug or alcohol misuse

However, many people develop GAD for not obvious discernible reason.

How can GAD be treated and how can you help yourself?

Psychological and talking therapies – you can get psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) ) on the NHS; you do not need a referral from a GP and you can refer yourself to organisations like MIND.

There may be a fee for the latter, but this is based on what you can afford. In certain circumstances you may qualify for some free sessions.

Mind info line 0300 123 3393
IAPT Improving Access to Psychological Therapies
Provides details of NHS counselling services

GPs may offer medication such as anti depressants. (Anxiety can often be linked depression)

Self help for generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

There are also many things you can do yourself to help reduce your anxiety, such as:

  • Going on a self-help course
  • Talking to a friend
  • Exercising regularly
  • Walking, being outside and in contact with nature can be a real help for some people
  • Having a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Cutting down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink
  • Listening to calming music
  • Doing something creative like drawing, crafting , playing an instrument. Anything you enjoy doing
  • Restricting your time on social media
  • Turning off phones, computers etc just before going to bed and having complete quiet time
  • Laughing – there is no better way of feeling happier and less anxious than having a laugh
  • Breathing exercises and distraction strategies

It can be a good idea to try and work out what “triggers” you to feel particularly anxious. Perhaps keep a journal about it? For instance for some people it might be going shopping in a very crowded place. Going at a less busy time may help. You will be able to identify what works best for you. Looking after your physical well being is always a good starting point. Trying to do something enjoyable every day is also a massive help.