Around 8.2 million people in the UK experience anxiety and this figure is likely to increase as the mental health implications of the current coronavirus pandemic are taken into account. The older members of our population are more prone to experience feelings of anxiety after spending more time than usual in isolation.
The world can seem a daunting place if you already have worries, rational or irrational. Many people are loathe to leave the safety of their homes but this can bring problems of increasing isolation and loneliness.
What Exactly is Anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. We can all feel anxious. It’s a natural part of the human condition, and it’s a protective mechanism, along with its big brother, panic. Anxiety keeps us on our toes and ready to act if the outcome of a situation isn’t what we need. It keeps our system sharp, so in controlled ways it’s a good thing.
Because anxiety is a normal human experience, it is sometimes hard to know when it’s becoming a problem for you. But if your feelings of anxiety are very strong, last a long time or affect your ability to live your life the way you’d like to, you should seek help.
A recent study suggests that women are almost twice as likely to suffer from it as men.
Researchers analysed 48 of the highest quality studies on the subject and found that 4 out of every 100 people are diagnosed with anxiety disorders. The main types of anxiety disorders are:
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD)
- Social anxiety disorder
- Specific phobias
In this article we will take a detailed look at the first of these conditions Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?
Suffering from anxiety can be a persistent problem in people’s lives. But for some people, anxiety is more significant, coming in the form of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). With GAD, those feelings of intense worry, panic and unease can seem relentless.
According to Patient.co.uk, GAD affects as many as 1 in 20 people at any one time. Depression expert Nancy Schimelpfening of About Health also says 60% to 65% of people suffering with GAD have other psychiatric disorders in conjunction with it, particularly panic disorder and major depression.
What are the symptoms of GAD?
Generalised Anxiety Disorder is a condition when we have continuous feelings of anxiety that isn’t caused by anything specific. If you worry endlessly about things, feel uneasy most of the time, or avoid situations because of how they make you feel, you may have GAD.
If you suffer from GAD, the symptoms you’re likely to feel, are:
- Fast heart beat or palpitations.
- Stomach problems, such as churning or diarrhoea.
- Feelings of panic.
- Twitchy and irritable.
- Difficulty sleeping.
Anxiety in the Over 50s
For those of us over 50, it’s not surprising that anxiety can be a particular problem. Things at this age often are uncertain. Children are leaving, or have left home, elderly parents are becoming more reliant on us, health issues might be developing and relationships are often changing. But there are other issues linked with GAD too. For example, levels of noradrenalin and serotonin in the brain, which influence mood, are linked with GAD. A history of alcohol or substance abuse can increase the chances of developing GAD. The condition can also develop as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Treatments for GAD
The important thing to know about GAD is it can be treated effectively. Too many people are likely to try and deal with it alone, feeling that it’s all in their head and that they should just fight it in some way. But seeing your GP is the best first step to take in getting the help you need.
Effective treatment usually follows two routes. The first is dealing with the physical causes and symptoms. The second is concerned with producing changes in the thought patterns which cause the physical symptoms to spiral without reason. Your GP or mental health counsellor may combine the two treatments.
Anxiolytics, which are anti-anxiety drugs, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are often used to treat GAD. These have overtaken tricyclic antidepressants as the treatment of choice, as they’ve been found to be less addictive and have fewer side effects.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy
This therapy is used to guide the sufferer into reconstructing their thought processes and has been proven to be extremely effective in treating anxiety disorders. A relatively short course, or few sessions, is known to have dramatic results.
How You Can Help Yourself
In addition to seeking help, there are things you can do to relieve the symptoms of GAD:
Be Gentle to Yourself
It’s not a sign that you are going mad, or are weak. GAD is a medical condition. You wouldn’t beat yourself up for having arthritis, or a heart condition, so why do that for this? Even just acknowledging and accepting that you have a problem can help the way you feel.
Look After Yourself
Eat healthily, and don’t overstimulate yourself with substances such as caffeine, nicotine or alcohol. Exercise and activities that calm your system and lower your stress hormones will also help, such as yoga, meditation or tai chi.
When you feel on edge all the time, the tendency can be to just focus on yourself and how you feel. So focus on the good stuff in life, your friends and family. Actively look for things that make you feel good, right down to what you read or watch on TV.
For advice on natural remedies for anxiety, you can read our earlier article by clicking on the link.
If you would like more advice and information, you may like to visit the website of the mental health charity Mind by clicking on this link.
Finally, do you suffer from anxiety and what helps you to cope with the feelings you experience?
Why not Share this article with a friend or loved one who is suffering as a result of anxiety. You may also like to read our earlier article on ways in which you can help someone deal with their feelings of anxiousness. Click on this link to find how you may be able to help. It can be as easy as just listening to them, keeping them company and actually taking them seriously.
You may really help them.
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