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Generalised Anxiety and Depression (GAD)

Generalised Anxiety and Depression (GAD)

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common mental health condition characterised by persistent and excessive worry about a number of events or activities. This type of anxiety disorder affects around 9% of adults at some point in their lifetime. People with GAD find it hard to control their worries and anxiety symptoms, which are more constant and can interfere with daily life.

This article provides an overview of the signs and symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in adults. It explains the causes, risk factors, and treatments available through the NHS. Read on to learn more about managing GAD and easing your symptoms.

If you or someone you know is suffering from Generalised Anxiety and Depression (GAD) and you feel you need someone to talk to. Please contact our helpline on 0808 115 1505 for confidential support.

What are the Symptoms of Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

The main symptom of GAD is frequent, intense anxiety and worry about many different things in a person’s everyday life. People with anxiety disorders experience more than temporary worry or fear. For people with GAD, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The most common symptoms and signs include:

Physical Symptoms

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Sweating, trembling, and dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Rapid heartbeat

Psychological Symptoms

  • Excessive worry about different events or activities
  • Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
  • Inability to relax, calm the mind, or concentrate
  • Feeling overwhelmed or losing control
  • Irritability, impatience, being easily startled

What Can Cause Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

The exact cause of GAD is not fully understood but likely involves a combination of factors:

  • Brain chemistry: GAD has been linked to abnormal levels of certain neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine that help regulate mood.
  • Genetics: Some studies indicate that GAD can run in families, so genes may play a role.
  • Stress: Trauma, emotional stress, and substance abuse can trigger or worsen anxiety disorders.
  • Physical health: Certain medical conditions are associated with elevated anxiety symptoms.

What is the Difference Between Normal Anxiety and GAD?

To feel anxious is a normal part of life for most people. Anxiety symptoms are only considered part of a disorder when they persist over an extended period (at least 6 months) and significantly interfere with work, school, personal relationships or daily functioning.

Compared to the actual risk of the events a person with GAD is concerned about, the level of distress brought on by the worries can be disproportionately high. The anxiety, tension, irritability and difficulties concentrating associated with GAD are more excessive, pronounced and persistent.

While a person without an anxiety disorder may worry about an upcoming test, a person with GAD may worry about family, health, finances, world affairs and many other areas, experiencing more frequent and extreme feelings of anxiety and struggling to control them.

When to See a Doctor or Mental Health Professional

Consult a doctor if anxiety is interfering with your daily life, causing significant distress, or appears to be worsening. A proper diagnosis and treatment can help reduce symptoms. It is critical to obtain an accurate diagnosis in order to develop effective GAD-specific strategies rather than general anxiety or worry. The GP may refer you to a mental health professional or specialist, like a psychiatrist or psychologist, for further assessment if a specific condition called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is suspected.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder Treatment Options

The main treatments for GAD combine psychotherapy approaches, medications, holistic activities and self-care strategies to help manage symptoms. These include:

1. Talk Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other types of counselling help patients identify and manage feelings of anxiety or worry by helping to change their thinking patterns and behaviours. Mental health support groups may also aid in coping with GAD.

2. Medications

Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonergic medications can be prescribed to help regulate neurotransmitter activity contributing to anxiety. Medications like pregabalin or gabapentin reduce nerve pain and anxiety symptoms.

Combining talk therapy and medications may enhance the effectiveness of both treatment types. It can take some trial and error under a doctor’s guidance to find the right therapy, medication type, or combination.

3. Lifestyle Changes

Stress management techniques (meditation, breathing exercises, yoga), exercise, sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake and proper treatment of any underlying medical issues can help minimise anxiety triggers.

4. Self-care Strategies

Practising mindfulness, establishing daily routines, workspace organisation, slowing down, seeking support systems, and shifting negative thought patterns can significantly ease various signs and symptoms on your own.

What is the Prognosis for Generalised Anxiety Disorder?

With appropriate diagnosis and treatment, many people with GAD experience substantial reductions in symptoms and improvements in overall quality of life, including improved relationships and job performance. However, stopping treatment generally results in high rates of relapse.

Consistently practicing therapeutic techniques and lifestyle changes helps sustain long-term positive outcomes. Some people may require ongoing medication, counselling, or both to overcome persistent feelings of anxiety. Support groups also aid maintenance by providing continual tools for coping with residual symptoms.

When to Get Emergency Help

Seek immediate medical care if your anxiety reaches severe levels, accompanied by:

  • Thoughts of harming yourself or suicide
  • Panic attacks
  • Uncontrollable, highly distressing worries or obsessive thoughts
  • Inability to work, have relationships, or complete daily living activities

Emergency mental health personnel can provide assistance or referrals for intensive programmes to help stabilise extreme anxiety. For emergency medical advice, call 999 or NHS 111. 

Additional Resources

  • NHS Choices: Generalised Anxiety Disorder in Adults
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
  • National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) portal on Anxiety Disorders

We hope this overview of GAD symptoms and management options helps people struggling with anxiety take steps to regain control and restore daily functioning. Our mental health charity provides counselling, diagnostics, community outreach and other programmes supporting adults with generalised anxiety disorder. Contact us today on 0808 115 1505 if you need help with mental health issues like generalised anxiety disorder.

Treatment Options

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is founded on the principle that our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and actions are interconnected, forming intricate patterns. When unhelpful thoughts and emotions take hold, they can trap us in a harmful cycle. The primary goal of CBT is to empower individuals to confront overwhelming challenges with a more positive outlook by breaking them down into manageable components. CBT equips individuals with practical strategies to reshape these negative patterns, resulting in a noticeable improvement in emotional well-being. Unlike certain other therapeutic approaches, CBT focuses on addressing current issues rather than delving extensively into past experiences. Its emphasis is on uncovering concrete and actionable methods to cultivate a healthier mindset in everyday life.