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If you are constantly worrying that something terrible can happen, you may be suffering from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). This syndrome manifests itself as long-term excessive and uninterrupted worry and anxiety about the future. You may find it difficult to take a break from worry and may find it difficult to focus on here and now.

Generalised anxiety disorder is usually associated with difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, restlessness, fatigue and inability to relax. You are sensitive to stress, separations and situations where you risk losing control. In generalised anxiety, you may have a sense of dread and be in of state of alert readiness where you constantly observe the environment and yourself and fear that the worst will happen. This takes a lot of your energy and may affect your ability to function negatively.

It is not always easy to identify the symptoms as anxiety, but one can believe that they are due to some physical illness. Anxiety and worry can take up so much space that you cannot live the life you might really want. Often, generalised anxiety disorder also causes physical symptoms, such as headaches, abdominal pain, or muscle tension. Sometimes it is the physical symptoms that dominate.

Generalised anxiety disorder differs from the normal anxiety in stressful circumstances in that the anxiety is strong, lasting and exaggerated in relation to the circumstances.

With generalised anxiety disorder, the anxiety is not triggered by a specific situation, as is the case with social phobia, nor does it come in attacks, as with panic disorder. Generalised anxiety disorder often occurs together with some other anxiety disorder or depression.

Generalised anxiety disorder is relatively common and affects 1-2 percent of people in Finland in any given year. In most cases, the symptoms start already in childhood or adolescence. Many people who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder do not seek treatment for their anxiety, but may seek medical help due to concerns about their physical health because of the physical symtoms of anxiety.

Causes of generalized anxiety disorder

Usually, people can relate anxiety and stress to difficulties in their studies, work, human relationships or other circumstances. For people with generalised anxiety disorder, the causes are usually more diffuse and more difficult to identify.

The causes of generalised anxiety disorder are not completely known. Anxiety can be due to past experiences in life, which are associated with losses and fears.

Treatment of gen­er­alised anx­i­ety dis­or­der

Self-management of generalised anxiety disorder includes avoiding extra stress, making sure to sleep at regular times and avoiding alcohol and beverages that contain caffeine. Relieving anxiety with alcohol or sedatives can help for the moment, but later on the anxiety often returns even stronger.

It is important to seek professional help if the anxiety interferes with the life you want to live. Untreated and prolonged anxiety can lead to depression.

Generalised anxiety disorder can be successfully treated with psychotherapy and medication. In psychotherapy you can learn to deal with anxiety. A psychotherapy can strengthen your confidence and help you to let go of excessive control over the uncertainties of life. The form of therapy that has most support in research is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Antidepressants can also be used to relieve anxiety.

Prevention of generalised anxiety disorder

You can reduce social anxiety yourself by ensuring adequate rest and regular sleep, relaxation and adequate exercise and avoiding tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

By training of mental health skills in schools and universities, the risk of a later anxiety syndrome can be reduced.

Fact check: Kristian Wahlbeck, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry