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Understanding Generalised Anxiety Disorder

An extract from our Mental Health Awareness Training for Managers

Everyone gets worried sometimes, but if a person has generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), worries and fears are so constant that they interfere with their ability to function and relax. They tend to have a constant fear of dread.  You may observe the person worrying excessively about things that are unlikely to happen, or feel tense and anxious all day long for no real reason. This type of worrying eventually takes its toll on the body and the person will experience tense muscles, insomnia and eventually exhaustion most of the time.  The symptoms develop over a period of time.   Most people with GAD tend not to isolate themselves, they continue to socialise and go to work, this is why it can be difficult to detect.

What is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)?

Generalised anxiety disorder involves anxiety and worry that is excessive and unrelenting. This high-level anxiety makes normal life difficult and relaxation impossible.

Those that suffer from (GAD) may worry about the same things that other people do: health issues, money, family problems, or difficulties at work. But they take these worries to a new level; for example, a co-workers careless comment about the economy becomes a vision of an imminent threat; a phone call to a friend that is not immediately returned becomes anxiety that the relationship is in trouble; or if a family member is late home then the first thought is “oh my god, they must have been in an accident.”

David’s story

David has always been a worrier, but it never interfered with his life before.  Lately, however, he’s been feeling on edge all the time.  He is paralysed by an impending sense of dread, and worries constantly about the future.  His worries make it difficult to concentrate at work, and when he gets home he can’t relax.

David is also having sleep difficulties, tossing and turning for hours before he falls asleep.  He also gets frequent stomach cramps and diarrhoea, and has a chronic stiff neck from muscle tension.  David feels like he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and cannot seem to be able to stop his negative thoughts.

The difference between ‘normal’ worry and GAD

Worries, doubts, and fears are a normal part of life. It’s natural to be anxious about your upcoming deadlines or your finances after being hit by unexpected bills. The difference between “normal” worrying and GAD is that the worrying involved in GAD  is much more frequent and disruptive.

For example, after watching a news report about a terrorist bombing in the Middle East, the average person might feel a temporary sense of unease and worry. A person with generalised anxiety disorder, however, might be up all night afterwards, then continue worrying for days about a worst-case scenario in which his or her city is attacked.

Most people with GAD tend not to avoid workplace or social situations, but they go about these activities filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even though there is little or nothing to provoke them.  This shows itself in their behaviour as they may turn up late, talk faster, look a bit dishevelled and have a general look of nervousness.

“Normal Worry”

  • Worrying doesn’t get in the way of daily activities and responsibilities
  • Worrying can be controlled
  • Worries, while unpleasant, don’t cause significant distress
  • Worries are limited to a specific, small number of realistic concerns
  • Bouts of worrying last for only a short time period

General Anxiety Disorder

  • Worrying significantly disrupts daily activities and responsibilities
  • Worrying is uncontrollable
  • Worries are extremely upsetting and stressful
  • Worrying is about all sorts of things, and the worse tends to be expected
  • Worrying is almost every day for at least six months

Signs and symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder
The symptoms can fluctuate. There tends to be better and worse times of the day, or better or worse days in general.

Not everyone with generalised anxiety disorder has the same symptoms, but most people experience a combination of a number of the following physical and psychological symptoms:
Physical symptoms

  • Muscle tension, aches, or soreness
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Stomach problems, nausea, jumpiness or unsteadiness
  • Edginess or restlessness
  • Tiring easily
  • Diarrhoea

Psychological symptoms

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of dread
  • Inability to control anxiety
  • Inability to relax
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fear of losing control or being rejected

Helpful hints for managers when supporting a person with generalised anxiety disorder:

  • Reflective listening using the LEAP model.
  • Don’t tell the person to “stop worrying about it.” It’s patronising and the person has an awareness that they are worrying excessively, stopping it is the difficult bit.
  • Offer emotional support by initially listening, then empathising and moving onto a more solution focussed approached.
  • Don’t over function, in other words do not become over responsible as this can encourage dependency. Instead, work collaboratively when the person wants to, rather than when you want to.
  • Try to remain patient as generalised anxiety disorder can last for months or years.

Contact Us
We hope you will find this information about Generalised Anxiety Disorder useful.   This is an extract from our Mental Health Awareness training course If you would like to find out more about this course, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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