What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

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I have written about Anxiety in the past few weeks and received a lot of questions about what GAD is.  Most people feel anxious and worried from time to time, especially when faced with stressful situations like taking an exam, speaking in public, playing competitive sport or going for a job interview. This sort of anxiety can make you feel alert and focused, helping you get things done faster or perform at your best.

People with GAD, however, feel anxious and worried most of the time, not just in specific stressful situations, and these worries are intense, persistent and interfere with their normal lives. Their worries relate to several aspect of everyday life, including work, health, family and/or financial issues, rather than just one issue. Even minor things such as household chores or being late for an appointment can become the focus of anxiety, leading to uncontrollable worries and a feeling that something terrible will happen. If you suffer from PTSD or Complex PTSD you may suffer from GAD.

For six months or more, on more days than not, have you:

  • felt very worried about a number of events or activities
  • found it hard to stop worrying
  • found that your anxiety made it difficult for you to do everyday activities (e.g. work, study, seeing friends and family)?
  • If you answered yes to all of these questions, have you also experienced three or more of the following:
  • felt restless or on edge
  • felt easily tired
  • had difficulty concentrating
  • felt irritable
  • had muscle tension (e.g. sore jaw or back)
  • had trouble sleeping (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep)?

If you have answered yes, you may be experiencing generalised anxiety disorder.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of anxiety conditions are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop slowly over time and, given we all experience some anxiety at various points in our lives, it can be hard to know how much is too much.

Normal anxiety tends to be limited in time and connected with some stressful situation or event, such as a job interview. The type of anxiety experienced by people with an anxiety condition is more frequent or persistent, not always connected to an obvious challenge, and impacts on their quality of life and day-to-day functioning. While each anxiety condition has its own unique features, there are some common symptoms including:

Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy

Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking

Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life

These are just some of a number of symptoms that you might experience. If you’ve experienced any of these, check the more extensive list of symptoms common to the different types of anxiety conditions below. They’re not designed to provide a diagnosis – for that you’ll need to see a doctor – but they can be used as a guide.

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