Generalised Anxiety Disorder is one of the Anxiety disorders.
A person with GAD is in a state of constant anxiety over many aspects of their life - relationships, work, health, family and/or finances.
Just about anything that a person can think about - they worry about.
The concerns are ongoing, extreme and unrealistic.
The person feels worried and anxious most of the time.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is a normal response in a scary, dangerous or unknown situation.
Anxiety involves the physical and psychological reaction that is necessary to prepare a body for either running away or fighting if necessary - known as the "flight or fight" response. This was certainly how we were able to equip ourselves to deal with danger in our distant past.
The autonomic nervous system prepares the body to cope with danger by releasing adrenaline which in turn increases blood pressure and puts the body and senses into a state of intense awareness, increased sensitivity and hyper alertness.
When the body triggers off this response the person essentially feels "nervous". You would have felt this when you had an exam coming up or had to give a talk or found yourself having to cross a very busy road. The nervous system puts your body in an alert state so that you can be at your best to deal with what it interprets as a dangerous or life threatening situation.
WHEN DOES IT BECOME A PROBLEM?
These days, however, events that trigger the flight or fight response are not usually life threatening or dangerous. Our stresses are more likely to involve meeting a deadline at work, being stuck in traffic or finding our bills are piling up.
The flight or fight response doesn't help us with these modern day stresses. Anxiety becomes a problem when it is so constant, so pervasive that it interferes with our lives.
If a person is always feeling nervous, then they are constantly getting the internal message that something is "wrong". They have difficulty relaxing enough to get on with day-to-day responsibilities and commitments. If anxiety is constant it has a detrimental effect on a persons physical health. It is physically stressful for a body to feel anxious all the time. T
he flight or fight response decreases the effectiveness of the immune system - thus a person is more vulnerable to becoming sick.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms associated with generalised anxiety disorder include:
Mind becomes alert
Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises
Mouth gets dry, increased thirst
Breathing rate increases
Immune response decreases
Feelings of fear and apprehension
Feeling sick or nauseous
Trembling and shaking
Butterflies in the stomach
Feeling out of control
Feeling as if you are going "crazy
POOR WAYS PEOPLE COPE WITH GAD
It is difficult coping with constant anxiety - some people smoke, drink or use other recreational or non-prescription drugs - however these drugs only exacerbate the problem. Cigarettes, coffee and other stimulants decrease the anxiety for short periods but the stimulant nature of these drugs actually puts more strain on the nervous system as it increases the alert mode.
Alcohol and other depressants are other short term fixes - anxiety often couples with depression - so alcohol only leads a person to increased anxiety when they are not drinking and depression when they are.
WHAT CAUSES GENERALISED ANXIETY DISORDER?
An absolute cause for GAD is not known. Some ideas that researches have include-
a) An imbalance of certain brain chemicals/hormones - neurotransmitters could be at the source of GAD. Certain chemicals control the fight or fight response in times of a real emergency. A change in the balance of these chemicals could lead to someone always being in a state of readiness for an emergency even when none exists. Some researchers think people can inherit a predisposition to chemical imbalances.
b) Certain personality traits, such as being sensitive and emotional can make people more vulnerable to anxiety. Being a sensitive person often leads the caring, empathic person to over concern and worry about lots of things beyond their control and/or responsibility.
c) Anxiety may onset particularly during periods of high level stress; in some cases the body may not be able to stop the physiological response after the stress has gone. Having to deal with a lot of stress all at once, or in seemingly endless succession, can stretch the mind and body's ability to cope and make a person vulnerable to developing GAD.
WHAT TREATMENT IS AVAILABLE?
Various talking therapies can be helpful in lessening anxiety problems, one example is Cognitive Therapy - this aims to change thinking patterns - negative thought patterns that trigger anxiety are substituted for positive ones. Psychodynamic Therapy seeks to find the underlying cause of the anxiety so the person can learn to deal with problems more effectively.
Another way to deal with anxiety is to prevent or interrupt the fight or flight response. This can be done by learning body/muscle relaxation techniques and learning to control breathing. Medication is also available if the anxiety is severe. However anxiety therapy is shown to be more effective than medication in the long term.
LONG TERM PROBLEMS WITH CONTINUING ANXIETY
If anxiety levels remain high over an extended period of time then it can have a detrimental effect on the body. Physical problems can arise because there is a decrease in immune response to illness and infection, increased chance of heart trouble due to increased blood pressure and intestinal problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Without any treatment anxiety can become quite severe and the following symptoms may become more troublesome:
Jumping at sudden noises
Muscle aches and pains from persistent tension
Losing interest in activities usually enjoyed - socialising etc.
Digestion and stomach problems
Ongoing difficulties with relationships
If you notice these symptoms or the general symptoms associated with anxiety then it is important to speak to someone about it and to seek help.
WHERE TO SEEK HELP
See your local GP
Call your local Community Health Centre (listed in White Pages)
Australian Psychological Society (APS) 1800 333 497 for a referral to a psychologist in your area.
Anxiety Disorders Alliance (02) 9570 4126 or 1800 626 077
Call the Mental Health Information Service on (02) 9816 5688 or toll free 1800 674 200 (Outside Sydney metro) for services in your area
DisclaimerThe information provided is to be used for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for seeking professional care in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Information may be reproduced with an acknowledgement to the Mental Health Association NSW. This, and other fact sheets are available for download from www.mentalhealth.asn.au. This fact sheet was last updated in Autumn, 2002.
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