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What is generalized anxiety disorder?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America about 6.8 million adults are affected by generalized anxiety disorder in any given year. In 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK. In both the US and the UK woman are twice as likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) as men. People with this disorder suffer from persistent, excessive and unrealistic worries about everyday things. They are anxious and worried all the time, expecting the worst even when there is no real reason to be worried. They often expect disaster and are constantly worried about money, health, family, work or other everyday issues.
A person is diagnosed with GAD when they find it difficult to control worrying on most days for at least six months and has at least three or more of the following symptoms.
Symptoms of anxiety disorder
- restlessness or feeling keyed up or on edge
- being easily fatigued
- difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- muscle tension
- sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep, or restless, unsatisfying sleep)
For someone with GAD even the thought of getting through the day causes anxiety and even though they may realise that their anxiety level is higher than the situation warrants they are unable to stop the cycle of constant worrying and anxiety. GAD usually begins gradually with the highest risk of onset being between childhood and middle age. The exact causes of GAD are unknown but are thought to involve a combination of biological factors, family background and stressful life experiences.
When a person with GAD has a relatively low anxiety level they can usually function socially and keep a job but they may avoid more situations than a person without the disorder. If the anxiety levels are high than even carrying out the simplest of days tasks can become difficult or at times impossible.
What can I do if I suffer from anxiety?
Whether you ‘qualify’ for an official diagnosis of GAD or would just like to worry less there are lots of things that you can do to ease the discomfort of worry and anxiety.
- Take a time-out: If you start to feel overwhelmed by worry then it’s often helpful to step back from the problem. Things that GAD sufferers have found helpful include – doing yoga, listening to music, meditation, getting a massage or practicing relaxation techniques.
- Eat well-balanced meals: One of the things that are affected by anxiety is a person’s appetite. Anxiety and worry can have opposite affects depending on the person. Some people completely lose the desire to eat when they are worried – in fact even the idea of food is enough to make them feel sick. Other’s engage in what is known as comfort eating – often eating junk food or sugary food because this gives them a feeling of instant gratification and temporary release from their worries. Unfortunately both of the extremes only lead to a worsening in general health which then becomes just one more thing to worry about. In order to give your body the best chance of dealing with the stresses and strains of modern life, both real and imagined, it is very important that you eat regular well-balanced meals. There are also specific foods that you can eat that are great at combating the effects of worry and stress.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine: The idea of avoiding caffeine and alcohol completely is sure to cause many people immediate anxiety as they rely on coffee to give them energy during the day and rely on alcohol to relax in the evening after work. Unfortunately for people suffering from anxiety both of these substances have a very bad effect and can actually aggravate feelings of anxiety and even bring on a panic attack.
- Get enough sleep: Yes, I know, telling an anxious person to get enough sleep isn’t immediately helpful because one of the first and most common symptoms of anxiety and stress is insomnia. The thing is that the body really does need more sleep and rest in order to be able to deal with stress. So it really is very important to do as much as one can to allow the body this much needed rest. Follow this link for more info on natural insomnia remedies.
- Exercise daily: Countless studies have shown that getting enough exercise is not just vital for your physical health but absolutely essential for your mental health too. In fact exercise has been shown to be at least as effective as anti-depressants in treating depression which is often a contributing or exacerbating factor in anxiety disorder. You should try get at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise like a brisk walk each week and about 1.5 hours of more intense activity like a swim or jog a week. This sounds a lot but if done in manageable 30 minutes sessions throughout the week is actually completely manageable. Studies have shown that when it comes to exercise frequency is very important – so rather walk every day then wait for the weekend for a ‘fitness marathon’. It can be very helpful to find an exercise buddy so that you can motivate each other and stay committed to a healthy program. Also please remember to be patient – it can take up to 2 months before someone who is out of shape will begin to feel the benefits of exercise.
- Take deep breaths: One of the first effects of stress and worry is a change in ones breathing patterns. When a person is feeling anxious or stressed they tend to take small shallow breaths using the shoulders rather than the diaphragm to get air in and out of the lungs. Extreme anxiety can even lead to panting and over breathing or hyperventilation. This can worsen feelings of anxiety as it disrupts the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body worsening the physical symptoms of stress. In contrast to the stressed breathing pattern a relaxed breathing pattern occurs when a person breathes deeply through their nose in an even and gentle way. By deliberately engaging in this breathing pattern you can calm the bodies autonomic nervous system. Controlled deep breathing has the following benefits:
- lowered blood pressure and heart rate
- reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood
- reduced lactic acid build-up in muscle tissue
- balanced levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood
- improved immune system functioning
- increased physical energy
- increased feelings of calm and wellbeing.
7. Count to 10 – or 20: Feeling anxious all the time starts to mess with ones ability to see things in perspective and react accordingly. Ones own brain has already given one a beating – then sometimes a relatively minor external event becomes the final straw. By counting to 10 or 20 before reacting you will avoid adding to the things you actually do need to worry about – like explaining to your colleague or partner why you just threw your toys out the cot.
8. Adjust those thoughts: The fancy term for this is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the studies have shown that it’s one of the few things that actually works in combating anxiety disorders. Here are some useful healthy thoughts and habits to replace the negative harmful ones:
- Aim for improvement rather than perfection
- It’s okay to not be able to control or fix the world
- Learn to laugh at yourself
- Try turn each negative thought around and change it into a positive one
- Get involved in your community – there’s nothing more empowering than helping others
- Write it down – find the pattern behind the things that trigger your anxiety and write about it. Just the act of getting the fears out of your head and onto paper can help regain perspective and control.
- Get help – you don’t need to battle this alone. Speak to your doctor about getting help from a therapist – there are millions of people suffering similar problems and there are professionals that know how to help.
I hope that you find the above useful – as a lifetime sufferer from anxiety I speak from experience and can vouch for the usefulness of all of the above tips.