Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Let’s face it, everyone at one time or another has known what it is like to feel fear or
anxiety. In times of danger, fear is a survival reflex preparing us to adopt a ‘fight or flight’ response to the
imminent threat we face that could harm us or our loved ones. But for people who experience Generalized
Anxiety Disorder (GAD), this feeling of fear or apprehension is not linked to any such danger or threat.
It’s just there, sometimes every day, making their life a misery...
Most people know what it is like to be afraid – when their hearts start beating faster, and
their breathing becomes quicker, and more pronounced. This usually occurs when we face danger, or some other
situation that causes us to feel scared that we may come to harm, or others close to us are being threatened.
However, if you have generalized anxiety disorder doesn’t need to actually be any danger – the sense of fear is
just there, for no specific reason.
Generalized anxiety disorder has been described by one medical encyclopedia as a “free
floating” anxiety which can arise for no apparent reason, yet this habitual worrying can become overwhelming and
very unpleasant for the person who experiences it day after day. Medical researchers currently estimate that around
27.5 million Americans are afflicted with GAD, making it the most common anxiety disorder in the world. Anxiety disorders come in many forms (phobias, panic
disorder, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder), and vary in levels of severity. For those with generalized
anxiety disorder, the misery is no less distressing, and just as fraught as they struggle to live a “normal”
A person is said to have generalized anxiety disorder if they are suffering chronic and
repetitive incidents of anxiety that last days, weeks or months, stretched out over 6 months or more. A person
suffering from GAD will worry incessantly about everyday events, and sometimes global ones that results in them
fearing something appalling is going to happen to them or their loved ones. Some people with GAD are aware of their
continuously anxious state, but often it’s not until a family member or friend points it out that they notice what
is happening to them.
Signs that someone has generalized anxiety disorder include – trembling; twitching;
shakiness; muscle tension, aches, or soreness; restlessness; easy fatigue; breathlessness, and smothering
sensations; hyperventilation; palpitations, or rapid heart rate; chest pain; sweating or cold clammy hands; dry
mouth; dizziness or lightheadedness; headache; nausea, diarrhea, or other abdominal distress; flushes, or chills;
frequent urination; feeling on edge; irritability; difficulty concentrating; disturbed sleep; and of course,
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a person has GAD if
they have three or more of the symptoms of restlessness, easy fatigue, poor concentration, irritability, muscle
tension, and sleep disturbance. “I worry all the time,” is a frequent cry from those who in fact have
Research has indicated that those most affected are women, single persons, minorities, and
those with low socio-economic status. Generalized anxiety disorder affects daily relationships with family, and
friends, as well as interactions and performance with colleagues at work or school. But what differentiates GAD
from other anxiety disorders is the fact that people with generalized anxiety disorder have no specific focus for
their distress. It can be general, and random, hence the term.
Another sign that all is not well with someone and that they are suffering from GAD is the
fact that those afflicted will be frequent users of health care facilities, and resources, and usually have just
one continual health complaint which they describe in some way that indicates their main problem is anxiety rather
than an actual physical ailment.
A simple way to determine whether someone has generalized anxiety disorder is to ask
them two questions:
- Have they during the previous four weeks been bothered by feeling worried, tense or
anxious most of the time?
- Are they frequently tense, irritable and having trouble sleeping?
If the answer is “yes” to either of those two questions, then further investigation is
warranted and it is highly likely that underlying causes of their worry will be forthcoming, and links will be
discovered as to their stresses and fears which might relate to anxiety in their teenage years, family concerns,
reliance on alcohol and drugs, issues to do with diet. The cause might be something as serious a deep-rooted
experience of sexual or physical abuse in the past…or simply be a matter of taking in too much caffeine.
The key is to listen for urgency for generalized anxiety disorder can be caused by one of
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