What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?
It is normal to feel anxious from time to time. Anxiety refers to the feelings of unease which often arise in unfamiliar or challenging situations, such as taking an examination in school. However, experiencing constant feelings of anxiety, which are debilitating enough to hinder daily activities, may be indicative of an anxiety disorder.
This article will focus on Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), the most common anxiety disorder among adults. However, there are several other anxiety disorders. These include:
- Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia
- Panic disorder
GAD is a long-term condition that causes feelings of anxiety concerning a variety of situations, as opposed to revolving around a specific situation.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder or “Normal” Feelings of Anxiety?
While some people may be more prone to feelings of anxiety than others, this does not necessarily indicate an anxiety disorder. If you are wondering whether the anxiety you are experiencing is a cause for concern, these are some characteristics of GAD that you may want to look out for.
Anxiety about a wide range of situations. It is normal to experience anxiety in response to a stressful situation. In GAD, feelings of anxiety are often not limited to specific situations. This means that people with GAD feel anxious more days than not, and may find it hard to remember when they last felt completely untroubled. If a cause for anxiety is resolved, another worry is likely to appear that evokes those anxious feelings again.
Presence of both physical and psychological symptoms. When affected by regular anxiety, you may also experience some physical discomfort, for instance in the form of heart palpitations. Physical symptoms are a key component of GAD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition (DSM-5) states that in addition to excessive feelings of anxiety and worry that are difficult to control, people with GAD experience at least 3 of the following symptoms:
- Restlessness, or feeling on edge
- Being prone to fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension
- Disturbed sleep
Interference with daily functioning. When feelings of anxiety become so distressing that they interfere with a person’s schoolwork or job, social life, and other parts of their life, there is a significant possibility that this person is experiencing GAD. For example, a person with GAD may go out of their way to avoid certain situations and activities in order to evade feelings and symptoms of anxiety, such as by skipping class or work.
In reality, it is often difficult to draw a line between typical feelings of anxiety and signs of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be difficult to distinguish from other mental health conditions, and often co-occur with other mental health conditions such as Major Depressive Disorders. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with an anxiety disorder that are causing you distress, you may want to consider taking this issue to a psychologist.
How Therapy May Be Helpful
GAD is treated with psychological therapy such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), medication, or both. If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety that are hindering your ability to go about your daily activities, visiting a psychologist may prove helpful to you and your well-being. In the meantime, these strategies may be useful in helping you cope with the feelings and symptoms you are experiencing:
- Getting sufficient sleep
- Incorporating exercise into your routine
- Using relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation
- Expressing yourself through drawing or writing in a journal
- Bandelow, B., Michaelis, S., & Wedekind, D. (2017). Treatment of anxiety disorders. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 19(2), 93-107. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5573566/pdf/DialoguesClinNeurosci-19-93.pdf
- National Health Service. Generalised anxiety disorder in adults. Retrieved June 29, 2020, from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/
- Reynolds, C.R. & Kamphaus, R.W. (2013). Generalized anxiety disorder [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://images.pearsonclinical.com/images/assets/basc-3/basc3resources/DSM5_DiagnosticCriteria_GeneralizedAnxietyDisorder.pdf