Beating Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Suffering from anxiety can be a persistent problem in people’s lives – especially at this time of year, as the busy Christmas season approaches. But for some people anxiety is more significant, coming in the form of Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). 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.
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. But, with GAD, those feelings of intense worry, panic and unease can seem relentless.
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.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Twitchy and irritable.
Anxiety in the Over 50’s
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, 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 also 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
Before you seek help, there are also 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.