Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life.
It's normal to feel anxious about something like a medical test or job interview.
A little bit of anxiety can be helpful; for example, feeling anxious before an exam might make you more alert and improve your performance. But too much anxiety could make you tired and unable to concentrate.
Anxiety can have both psychological and physical symptoms. Psychological symptoms can include:
- Feeling worried or uneasy a lot of the time
- Having difficulty sleeping, which makes you feel tired
- Not being able to concentrate
- Being irritable
- Being extra alert
- Feeling on edge or not being able to relax
- Needing frequent reassurance from other people
- Feeling tearful
When you’re feeling anxious or stressed, your body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. These cause the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as an increased heart rate and increased sweating.
Physical symptoms can include:
- A pounding heartbeat
- Breathing faster
- Palpitations (an irregular heartbeat)
- Feeling sick
- Chest pains
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling faint
- Needing the toilet more frequently
- "Butterflies" in your tummy
Anxiety can also be a symptom of another condition, such as panic disorder (when you have panic attacks) or post-traumatic stress disorder, which is caused by frightening or distressing events.
Is anxiety bad for you?
A little anxiety is fine, but long-term anxiety may cause more serious health problems, such as high blood pressure (hypertension). You may also be more likely to develop infections. If you’re feeling anxious all the time, or it’s affecting your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event.
People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person, but can include feeling restless or worried and having trouble concentrating or sleeping.
When to see your GP
Although feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal, you should see your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or is causing you distress.
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms and your worries, fears and emotions to try to find out if you could have GAD.
What causes GAD?
The exact cause of GAD is not fully understood, although it's likely that a combination of several factors plays a role. Research has suggested these may include:
- Overactivity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour
- An imbalance of the brain chemicals serotonin and noradrenaline, which are involved in the control and regulation of mood
- The genes you inherit from your parents – you're estimated to be five times more likely to develop GAD if you have a close relative with the condition
- Having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying
- Having a painful long-term health condition, such as arthritis
- Having a history of drug or alcohol misuse
However, many people develop GAD for no apparent reason.
Who is affected?
Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is more common in people between the ages of 35 and 55.
How GAD is treated
GAD can have a significant effect on your daily life, but several different treatments are available that can help ease your symptoms. These include:
- Psychological therapy – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Medication – such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
There are also many things you can do yourself to help reduce your anxiety, such as going on a self-help course, exercising regularly and cutting down on the amount of alcohol and caffeine you drink.
With treatment, many people are able to control their levels of anxiety. However, some treatments may need to be continued for a long time and there may be periods where your symptoms worsen.
Ask your CarePlus Pharmacist for more advice