Anxious all the time? You're not alone

GAD is an exhausting and distressing condition, which often goes undiagnosed, that may affect up to one in 20 people.

For a condition that may affect up to one in 20 people, generalised anxiety disorder, or GAD, has a remarkably low profile. Now a new video, supported by the charity Anxiety UK aims to raise awareness of how it feels to live with GAD.

GAD is a long-term condition in which you worry excessively, not just about one thing (as you might if you had a phobia) but about all sorts of everyday things. For instance, if your partner is five minutes late home from work, your immediate thought is not that the traffic's bad but that he or she has been in a car crash. It's not logical - and you may well know that other, less worrying, reasons are far more likely to account for his delay. But that doesn't stop you feeling tense and sick with worry. The moment he or she is back, your brain will switch to another possible disaster. Many people with GAD worry unduly about their health, consumed with the fear that each new ache or pain is cancer. Up to 90% of GAD sufferers have problems sleeping, often because their minds are churning with worry. Symptoms tend to start in your twenties, but often persist for years if you don't get treatment.

It's an exhausting and distressing condition, which often goes undiagnosed. Sometimes people don't speak to their doctor about it at all, because they're worried they'll be told to pull themselves together. Sometimes they make very frequent appointments with the doctor, but each time they go in with another, seemingly unrelated symptom, and nobody puts the pieces together.

A diagnosis of GAD is made if, over at least six months, you suffer from excessive anxiety or worry and have at least three symptoms including:

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Problems concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Feeling tired or getting tired easily

If you're one of those lucky people who fall asleep the moment their head touches the pillow, have a look at the video and thank your lucky stars. If the images, and the symptoms above, touch a chord with you, do speak to your GP. There are effective treatments for GAD, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in particular can help you learn to challenge, and therefore avoid, the unhelpful patterns of thinking that trigger your symptoms or keep them going. Medication can also help.

All too many people with GAD avoid seeking help for it because they feel embarrassed to admit to mental 'weakness'. Yet one in four people in the UK suffers from mental health problems at some point in their lives. We have to break the taboo if we're going to give people the help they need. Does it sometimes feel you're the only one in the world who feels anxious all the time? Look around you - someone in your train carriage is undoubtedly going through the same feelings. You may not even be the only one in your office.

Dr Sarah is unable to provide medical advice or respond directly to questions concerning your health. If you have health concerns we recommend contacting your GP.