Oh my GAD: what is anxiety?

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. Whether it’s because there’s a big exam coming up, a first date, or your parents are wondering who spilled coke on the sofa and you are trying to avoid eye contact.

These are all perfectly natural times to be anxious. It’s a normal biological response; the same one that keeps you safe and made sure that our ancestors ran away from lions and tigers and bears (oh my!).

But some people find that their anxiety stretches beyond these sorts of objectively stressful circumstances, bleeding into other aspects of their life and making it hard to ever chill.  

This is called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

What does anxiety look like?

There are both mental and physical symptoms of GAD. Mentally, people may find that they’re constantly worried; often about things that are a regular part of everyday life, like talking to people, getting on the bus or answering a question in class. Or they find they’re disproportionately worried about things that are super unlikely to happen – like your parents being in a car accident, or that gravity will stop working and we will all be flung into space.

And sometimes, people with anxiety worry about worrying.

Physically, a person with anxiety may find themselves having difficulty concentrating or sleeping. Some people experience dizziness, a racing heart, nausea, excessive sweating and breathlessness. Basically, all the fun stuff. When these sort of sensations become overwhelming, that’s a panic attack – and as anyone who has had a panic attack will tell you, for something that is supposedly ‘all in the mind’, they can feel incredibly, terrifyingly real.

TLDR? Here’s the important stuff:
  • Everyone experiences anxiety at some point or another. But when anxiety stretches beyond objectively stressful circumstances and affects other aspects of life, this is called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
  • People with anxiety may find that they’re constantly worried. They might find themselves having difficulty concentrating or sleeping, that their heart is racing or they feel dizzy, nauseous, sweaty or breathless.
  • There will always be times in your life when you feel anxious, but GAD is totally treatable. Many options involve talking therapies and anti-anxiety medications.
  • If you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it's a good idea to head to your GP for a chat.

What causes anxiety?  

Unfortunately, the exact cause of GAD isn’t fully understood. However, there are lots of things that are thought to contribute to some people developing generalised anxiety disorder – such as traumatic childhood experiences, your habits and diet, genetics and your overall mental and physical health.

Is it treatable?

Well there will always be times in your life when you feel anxious, and that’s not a bad thing. Anxious feelings can keep you safe, help you recognise true love or alert you to the fact that you do really care about your school work.

But generalised anxiety disorder is totally treatable. Many treatment options involve talking therapies, such as seeing a psychologist or a counsellor to chat about your feelings. Talking therapies can be great as they can teach you practical tactics to help you cope in certain situations, and strategies to avoid triggers.

There are also anti-anxiety medications available, which can help people cope with their symptoms and balance out their mood. It’s common for people to try a combination of talking therapies and medication, depending on their GP’s advice.

When should I go to the doctor?

It’s always good to take your mental health as seriously as your physical health (after all, your brain is a pretty vital body part). So if you feel like you have any of the symptoms we’ve been talking about, it’s not a bad idea to head to your GP for a chat.

Remember, it’s totally ok to be anxious from time to time – but if your anxiety is impacting other areas of your life, there is always help available to calm things down. 

Image: Manjit Thapp

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