1 in 6 people in the UK will experience anxiety disorder, which has steadily increased over the past 20 years. It is also likely that individuals do not seek help for significant levels of anxiety, meaning many remain without diagnosis or treatment.
Signs and Symptoms
Life is full of potential stressful events and it is normal to feel anxious about everyday things. Generally it’s a number of things that increase anxiety levels, including relationships, interviews, work deadlines and money worries etc.
Anxiety has a strong effect on us because it is one of our natural survival responses. It causes our mind and body to speed up to prepare us to respond to an emergency or threat.
These are some of the physical things that might happen:
- rapid and or irregular heartbeat
- fast breathing
- tense muscles
- churning stomach
- dry mouth
Anxiety also has a psychological impact, which can include:
- sleeping issues
- concentration loss
- learning issues
- loss of self-confidence
Causes of anxiety
Feelings of anxiety can be caused by lots of things and vary according to what you are worried about and how you act when you feel apprehensive.
They depend on lots of things such as:
- your genes
- how you were brought up
- what’s happened to you in your life
- the way you learn and cope with things.
Being able to identify what makes you anxious and why can be the first steps to controlling and managing anxiety.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
A diagnosis of GAD can mean you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event or situation.
People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. GAD may cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms and may include feeling restless or worried and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.
Where does GAD come from?
It’s likely that a combination of several factors plays a role and research has suggested these may include:
- overactivity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour
- 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 can increase your risk of developing the condition
- stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying
- having a painful long-term health condition
- having a history of drug or alcohol issues
Who is affected?
GAD is a common condition estimated to affect about 1 in every 25 people in the UK.
Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is more common in people between the ages of 35 and 55.
How GAD is treated
GAD can have a significant effect on your daily life, but several different treatments are available that can help ease your symptoms.
- psychological therapy
- medication such as a variety of types of antidepressants
There are many self-help approaches to reducing your anxiety, such as courses, self-help literature, exercising regularly, stopping smoking and cutting down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you consume.
With treatment, many people are able to manage their anxiety. However, some treatments may need to be continued for a significant period of time and there may be periods where your symptoms worsen.
Talking to others: Talking to others can help cope with a problem and being listened to can help you feel supported.
Face your fear: Breaking the cycle of constantly avoiding situations that make you anxious, you are less likely to stop doing the things you want, or need to do. Chances are the reality of the situation will not be as bad as you expect making you better equipped to manage and reduce your anxiety.
Know yourself: Make a note of when and where you feel anxious, what happens (symptoms) and the potential triggers. By acknowledging these and arming yourself with tips to deal with these triggers, you will be better prepared in anxiety-inducing situations.
Relax: Learning relaxation techniques can help you calm feelings of anxiety. Yoga, meditation or massage will relax your breathing and help you manage the way you feel about stressful experiences.
Exercise: Even small increases in physical activity levels can trigger brain chemicals that improve your mood, wellbeing and stress levels. This can act as a prevention and treatment for anxiety as well as lead to improved body image, self esteem and self worth and social well being.
Healthy eating: Eating lots of fruit and vegetables and avoiding too much sugar is a healthy approach. The initial sugar ‘rush,’ followed by a sharp dip in blood sugar levels which can give you anxious feelings. Caffeine can also increase anxiety levels so try to avoid drinking too much tea or coffee.
Avoid alcohol or drink in moderation: It’s very common for people to drink alcohol when they feel nervous to numb their anxiety, however when it wears off you may feel worse and potentially more anxious, and your brain will be less able to deal with anxiety naturally.
Faith / spirituality: If you are religious or spiritual, it can help you feel connected to something bigger than yourself. It can provide a way of coping with everyday stress. Faith groups can be a valuable support network.
Talking to someone
If you feel anxious all the time for several weeks or if it feels like your anxiety is taking over your life then getting help would be appropriate.
Talking therapies like counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are very effective for people with anxiety problems, CBT helps people to understand the link between their thoughts (negative) and mood (emotions) and how altering their behaviour influences thoughts and can enable people to manage anxiety and feel in control.
Mindfulness is a variation of CBT focusing on changing the relationship between the individual and their thoughts. It focuses on `being’ conscious’ in the present rather than the past or future. Using meditation or other activities can help people be ‘mindful’ of their thoughts and break out a pattern of negative thinking.
Guided self-help is usually based on CBT methods and aims to help the person understand the nature of their anxiety and equip them with the necessary skills to cope with it. This works by educating the individual to challenge unhelpful thinking, evaluate their symptoms and gradually expose themselves to the source of their anxiety.
Medication is used to provide short-term help, rather than as a cure for anxiety problems. Drugs may be most useful when they are combined with other treatments or support, such as talking therapies.
Support groups are designed for individuals to learn a lot about managing anxiety from asking other people who have experienced it. Learning often takes place through peer contact and can bring together people with similar experiences to share their stories, tips and try out new ways of managing their worries. Your doctor, library or local citizens advice bureau will have details of support groups near you.