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 – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about taking an exam, getting a medical test, or going to a job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal.
However, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives, making it difficult to function at work or in social situations.
Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Phobias – such as fears of driving or spiders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event.
People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another may appear about a different issue.
GAD can cause both mental and physical symptoms. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Some people have only one or two symptoms, while others have many more.
Mental symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder
GAD can cause a change in your behavior and the way you think and feel about things, resulting in symptoms such as:
- A sense of dread
- Feeling constantly “on edge”
- Difficulty concentrating
Your symptoms may cause you to engage in certain behaviors to avoid feelings of worry and dread. Some examples include procrastinating, over-working or preparing, being a perfectionist, or constantly seeking reassurance.
You may find going to work or school difficult and stressful and may take time off sick. These actions can make you worry even more about yourself and increase your lack of self-esteem.
Physical symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder
GAD can also have a number of physical symptoms, including:
- A noticeably strong, fast, or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Muscle aches and tension
- Trembling or shaking
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach ache
- Feeling sick
- Pins and needles
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
If you’re anxious because of a specific phobia or because of panic disorder, you’ll usually know what the cause is.
For example, if you have a phobia of driving, you know that driving will trigger your anxiety.
However, if you have GAD, it may not always be clear what is causing your anxiety. Not knowing what triggers your anxiety can intensify it, and you may even start to feel anxious about why you feel anxious so often.
What causes generalized anxiety disorder?
The exact cause of GAD isn’t fully understood, although it’s likely a combination of several factors. These may include:
- Overactivity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behavior
- 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 five 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
- Having a painful long-term health condition, such as arthritis
- Having a history of drug or alcohol misuse
GAD is a common condition, estimated to affect up to 5%-10% of the world population.
Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is most common in people from the ages of 35 to 59. However, anyone can be affected by GAD.
Many people wait a long time before seeking help for anxiety. We know there is a lot of information on the Internet, and it’s hard to find trustworthy sources and a clear path to get started. So let’s talk about the components of successful anxiety treatment:
We all face emotional challenges in life. It’s not easy and it takes courage to take the first step to get better. Improving your ability to experience calm and peace of mind is a process that starts with you and flourishes with commitment.
Like other organs in the body, the brain sometimes needs help to balance its functions. Medications for anxiety work by balancing natural substances in the brain, known as neurotransmitters.
Some medications for anxiety are in the same class as antidepressants and are prescribed by physicians and nurses specializing in mental health. These professionals will do a thorough assessment by asking questions about your symptoms, history, and environment to decide if medications are recommended for you.
Antidepressants are non-controlled substances, which means that they aren’t classified as having euphoric or addictive properties. However, a withdrawal effect can occur when stopping or reducing antidepressants, so it’s important to consult with your health provider before changing how you take your medication.
Behavior therapy is a treatment approach that involves understanding patterns that keep you feeling anxious and finding ways to break those patterns by changing your thoughts and behaviors. Although there are lots of different types of behavior therapies with cognitive behavioral therapy being the most well-known, they all have the objective of helping you feel better by understanding your mind, gaining control of your emotions, and changing behaviors.
Just like physical exercises can reduce high blood pressure or cholesterol, therapy exercises reduce anxiety by helping you develop new ways of thinking and new coping skills.