What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder?
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health disorder that causes a person to feel worried or anxious most days. People with GAD feel anxious during a number of different situations and about lots of issues, rather than just one specific thing.
Feeling anxious for a long time can change the way you think and feel about things. For instance, people with GAD can feel a sense of dread and restfulness. It can also change the way they act. People with GAD can start to avoid situations that make them feel anxious.
Anxiety disorders, including GAD, are one of the most common types of mental health disorder in children and adolescents. Nearly 300,000 young people in Britain have an anxiety disorder.
In the UK, anxiety disorders are estimated to affect 5-19% of all children and adolescents, and about 2-5% of children younger than 12.
What causes it?
We don’t know exactly what causes Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Researchers think there are many factors involved.
Having a certain genetic make-up can make you more vulnerable to experience GAD. Several genes, or sections of our DNA, have been found that can make a person more or less likely to develop GAD in future. These genes can be passed down from your parents. This means that if you have a family member with GAD, you might be more likely to develop it too.
GAD has been associated with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders. However, researchers have not been able to tell whether any of these disorders cause GAD or whether having GAD makes you more likely to develop these disorders over time.
Stressful life events can trigger people who are vulnerable to develop anxiety disorders to start to experience symptoms. For example, these events could be bullying or trauma.
What are the symptoms?
GAD can affect your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
People with GAD may feel anxious much of the time. They are also likely to feel restless, “on edge” and irritated by the things that cause them stress.
GAD can also impact how you think. People with GAD say they repeatedly have anxious or worried thoughts. For example, when meeting a new person, someone with GAD may spend lots of time worrying that they will make a fool of themselves or be rejected.
People with GAD may change their behaviours because of their anxiety. They may avoid situations that cause them stress, such as going to busy places or making decisions.
GAD can also cause different body symptoms. These could make a person feel like they have a rapid heart rate, feel dizzy, shaky and like they have butterflies in their stomach. They may also breathe more quickly, feel tired much of the time and can experience muscle aches. In rare cases people can faint or pass out due to their levels of anxiety.
How is it diagnosed?
There are lots of treatments and lifestyle changes that are used to treat GAD. Not all of them will work for all people, so it is important to stay open-minded and try some to see what works for you.
You doctor may recommend that you eat healthy food and you try your best to sleep properly. They might also suggest that you set aside time to do sports or activities that you enjoy. Loneliness and isolation can make your anxiety worse. So your doctor might talk to you about ways to meet new people or encourage you to talk more to people that you trust.
It can also help to understand more about your anxiety and the symptoms you experience. A type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help with this. In CBT you will learn more about your symptoms and learn techniques to makes changes to how you think and feel. This can be in one-to-one sessions with a mental health professional, in groups with other people experiencing anxiety or it could be delivered online.
Medicines may be prescribed for moderate or severe cases of GAD, by a specialist Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. For example, antidepressants such as SSRI’s have been found to reduce anxiety symptoms. These medications would only be prescribed after careful assessment and usually after all other treatment options had been considered.
How is it treated?
Want to know more?
NHS choices – information on GAD
Rethink Mental Illness