Imagine you’re getting into a car to take your driving test or walking in to a job interview. How do you feel? There are certain moments and situations in life where feeling anxious is completely natural; it can even be useful, as the ‘nerves’ can help you focus on doing your best.
But if you’re thinking “I feel anxious” every day, regardless of what you’re up to; if you find your worries are spiralling out of control, it may be that anxiety is taking over.
So what exactly does it mean to feel anxious? Anxiety can be described as feeling worried or fearful, having a sense of dread, and being unable to relax or concentrate. Anxiety can be a condition in itself, which is known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). But it can also be a symptom of other conditions, including various phobias, panic disorder, PTSD and social anxiety disorder.
Around 5% of people in the UK are thought to be affected by Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). But every one of them will have a different experience. You can have mild anxiety, with a few symptoms, or be struggling with severe anxiety that impacts every area of your life.
As well as the psychological symptoms of anxiety, such as feeling worried, irritability, restlessness, you can have physical symptoms too. These range from heart palpitations to dizziness, fatigue to feeling sick, aches and pains to insomnia.
You may also find yourself avoiding friends and family, and taking time off work, to shield yourself from the stress and fear it triggers.
No one really knows what causes Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
As with many health conditions, your genes may have a part to play; research suggests having a close relative with GAD makes you five times more likely to develop it yourself. Other possible factors include having experienced trauma as a child, suffering from a long-term health condition, or misusing drugs or alcohol.
Statistically, it seems you’re slightly more likely to experience anxiety if you’re female and it’s most common in 35- to 59-year-olds. Day-to-day, some people know what triggers their symptoms of anxiety, such as a specific phobia, and that can help them to manage it. But, for many people struggling with anxiety there may be no obvious cause at all.
If you’re feeling anxious all the time, and it’s stopping you from fully living your life, it’s time to get help. The good news is there are ways to manage your condition.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) has been shown to be one of the most effective approaches. In short, this is about examining your thought processes and how they drive your actions. You can practise CBT for anxiety with the help of a trained therapist or counsellor, or start with an online self-help course.
Learning to relax, with specific relaxation techniques, is also known to help people struggling with anxiety. As are lifestyle changes, in particular regular exercise.
Medication is usually recommended only as a last resort, particularly as antidepressants can have negative side effects, but they can help you if nothing else does.
It’s worth remembering that anxiety and depression – as well as other issues, such as drug and alcohol misuse – can often be linked. If you’re suffering from a related problem, it’s best to get help for that first, before you begin to address your generalised anxiety.