It is often ordinary to feel anxious from time to time. It is something we all experience in life. Certain times such as the night before an exam, attending a job interview, undergoing medical treatment or even something as straightforward as moving house can lead to us feeling uneasy, worried or fearful. It can be mild or severe, depending on the person and the circumstances.
For some people, however, this is not the whole story. They may find it hard to control their worries. For them, anxiety is a constant companion and as a result their daily lives may be severely affected. Anxiety is a notable symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and a range of phobias such as agoraphobia and claustrophobia.
Additionally, up to 5% of the UK population have been diagnosed with a specific condition called generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). The condition is known to affect slightly more women than men and the average age of a suffer is between 35 and 59. For these people, anxiety is triggered by a wide range of factors rather than one specific event. Therefore, it is a daily occurrence and extended periods may pass between bouts of relaxation.
Even when a resolution is found for one cause of anxiety, another may rapidly spring up to replace it. Anxiety becomes a mental health concern when it begins to significantly impact on your daily life. For example, you may find your fears or worries are disproportionate to their original cause, if you go out of your way to avoid certain situations for fear of triggering your anxiety or if you find it increasingly difficult to control your worrying. This a double-edged sword approach however.
While it may seem sensible to avoid the situation for fear of triggering anxiety, staying away will only consolidate the feeling of danger. Avoidance also inhibits the person with anxiety from uncovering whether their fear is actually grounded in reality.
Like many psychological conditions, the symptoms will vary from person to person and not everyone may encounter all of them. Indeed, some sufferers may only experience one or two. Nonetheless, signs to look out for in someone with GAD include restlessness, dread, a constant feeling of edginess and difficulty in concentrating.
Physical symptoms may also be noticeable. These include dizziness, tiredness, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, insomnia and feelings of nausea. Those suffering from such symptoms may withdraw from public life to lessen the risk of feeling worried, tense or nervous. A GP should be consulted if anxiety-related symptoms persist.
The causes of GAD are hard to pinpoint. Indeed, an exact cause has yet to be determined. Scientists theorise that the causes of GAD may include overactivity in the parts of the brain connected with emotions and behaviour, or an imbalance of serotonin and noradrenaline, brain chemicals involved in the control and regulation of mood.
Other theories include a history of traumatic experiences such as bullying or domestic violence and drug or alcohol misuse. However, GAD often appears to manifest for no reason at all, which in turn can intensify the anxiety.
The most common means of treating GAD is through psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A referral from a GP is unnecessary for this and self-referral is the most common means of accessing it. CBT will involve considering the origins of the anxiety-related worries and considering ways and means of tackling them.
It also encourages the person with GAD to return to everyday activities which they have been avoiding due to their condition. Another form of therapy which may be recommended is applied relaxation. This involves relaxing muscles in a certain way during anxiety-inducing scenarios. It generally involves learning muscle relaxation and how to relax quickly.
A special form of anti-depressant known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may also be prescribed the combat the effects of GAD. Group therapy is also an option and sufferers from anxiety may take comfort in meeting other people in the same situation and working together with a therapist to learn ways of controlling their anxiety.
Someone with GAD may also be offered self-help tips which could be useful in reducing the severity of the symptoms, such as regular exercise, e.g. swimming, brisk walks, jogging or cycling. Exercise helps the brain to release serotonin, which can lead to improvements in mood. Reducing caffeine is also advisable as it can disrupt sleep and increase heartbeats. Sleep deprivation can exacerbate anxiety and make it less controllable.
Similarly, smoking and alcohol consumption have been proven to contribute to anxiety and should be avoided or given up if already practiced. Self-help courses, usually online or in book form, are also recommended as a means of self-help and can offer advice on how to control the symptoms of anxiety.
Through any of the methods mentioned above, or a combination of more than one, many people with GAD are able to control their symptoms. Each person will receive the treatment that is best suited to them. Some will require a shorter period of treatment than others. All should be prepared to try various remedies in case the first one they receive proves to be unsuitable for them. But ultimately, anxiety can be controlled with the right tools.
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