Whether it's work-related stress, an important upcoming event or you're just trying to be Superwoman and juggle everything at once – we're all prone to feeling a little under the pump sometimes.
However, it's important to know the difference between natural feelings anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
We spoke to Nancy Sokarno, a psychologist at online psychology service Lsyn, about GAD and what to do if you may be suffering from more than just everyday stress.
Anxiety is a natural human emotion, but how can you tell when anxiety has become a problem and when does it constitute GAD?
GAD is characterised by anxiety and worry that is out of proportion to the actual likelihood or impact of the anticipated event. It refers to excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worry about everyday life events with no obvious reasons. People with symptoms of GAD tend to always expect the unexpected and can't stop worrying about varying situations in life. Daily life becomes a constant state of worry, fear, and dread.
What are the symptoms of GAD as opposed to the symptoms of stress?
The symptoms of stress can range from a rapid heartbeat, upset stomach, headache, chest pain, low energy, insomnia, tightened muscles, quick breathing and sometimes even loss of sexual desire. Generally, stress is felt as a result of a stressor (a circumstance, incident or situation) and it is something that can come and go, triggered by that specific situation. The symptoms of GAD when compared to stress are very similar (heart palpitations, nausea, insomnia, light headedness, irritability etc), however the difference is that it’s a constant and excessive state of worry. With GAD there isn’t necessarily a trigger to the symptoms and often those symptoms are ongoing for long periods of time. A person experiencing GAD is worried more days than not.
What does the diagnosis of GAD involve?
GAD can sometimes be difficult to diagnose given that sufferers display similar symptoms to other related anxiety disorders. Typically GAD is diagnosed with a mental health screening where a doctor or psychologist would ask the patient questions about symptoms and how long they have present. The doctor may also take out a physical exam to look for health signs that might be attributed to GAD such as headaches, stomach aches, excessive sweating or muscle tension.
How can we manage the symptoms of both?
There are many ways to manage the symptoms of both stress and GAD and these methods are very similar. Breathing exercises, meditation, exercise, writing things down can all help to manage the symptoms. For someone experiencing GAD, it could definitely be worthwhile seeking the help of a professional to learn appropriate coping mechanisms and management strategies to use for upcoming events as opposed to reaction situations.
What are the treatment options for GAD?
GAD is manageable through cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) whereby a psychologist will meet with the person regularly with the goal to restructure their thinking patterns, and in turn a change in behaviours. The approach is focused on creating long term positive change in people who suffer from generalised anxiety. Patients are taught to recognise and control their anxious thoughts, along with methods to help them calm themselves down when these kind of thoughts arise. GAD can also be treated through various medications which can be prescribed by a medical professional.