Persistent Anxiety and Uncontrollable Worrying Over What Might Happen
The thoughts are racing and unstoppable – something awful might happen. What would I do? What
could I do? What can I do? ... What if?
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves long-lasting exaggerated and unrealistic worry, mainly over things pertaining to the health and
personal safety of our self and family members. It is often accompanied by general feelings of apprehension and being 'on-edge' for much of
"A state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible misfortune, danger etc."
And to be anxious is to be "worried and tense."
(Collins English Dictionary)
Medical Definition of a Disorder:
"an illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions."
Having GAD is like being in a constant state of 'what if...?' We experience increased, persistent anxiety (seemingly
for no apparent reason) and so live in a constant state of apprehension and fear over something bad happening.
Physically, we frequently feel 'on-edge' and 'jittery' and live in a state of increased tension. Our senses, heart rate
and blood pressure are higher than normal. Over time this state of increased physiological arousal often leads to
fatigue, lethargy and feeling generally 'run down' which can result in constant colds, flus and illness. After a while, being in a state
of constant tension can cause numerous body aches and pains.
Mentally, the excessive feelings of anxiety result in constant worrying ("we are so anxious... why? What's going to
happen? What can I do about it?") and we start to obsess uncontrollably about bad things that may happen.
This worry can be about many things: bad things that may happen in the future or may happen because of something we have done in the past. A
common worry revolves around the greatest fear that almost everyone has deep down, that is the fear that something awful may happen to our
Generalized anxiety disorder stems from the natural role of anxiety, which is a series of instinctual
thoughts, feelings and behaviours that have evolved over time and serve to protect us from being hurt.
Anxiety protects us in two main ways:-
1. It prepares us physically to either fight or run away, the fight-or-flight response. This is responsible for the
physical symptoms such as: fast heartbeat and breathing, trembling and shaking, sweating, nausea and difficulty swallowing.
ANXIETY SYMPTOMS AND 'FIGHT OR FLEE'
Physical anxiety symptoms result from the body re-directing resources to the major
muscle groups (legs / arms / chest) to provide them with an energy boost to prepare
us for action (ultimately to fight or flee).
* Our breathing becomes more rapid to get more oxygen for these muscles into the blood. * Our heartbeat speeds up to get the blood to the muscles quicker. * Blood is diverted from the brain (making us light-headed and dizzy) and the stomach (causing 'butterflies'). * Energy cannot be wasted processing any half-digested food in our system so we need to get rid of it quickly - either through the mouth
(feelings of nausea) or the other end (wanting to go to the toilet). * Other 'energy-wasting ' systems (unnecessary in time of danger) are shut down eg. saliva production, giving us a dry mouth and difficulty
swallowing. * We sweat more to cool down all this energy production. * The energy boost to the muscles makes them 'jumpy'/ 'jittery'/ 'jelly-like'/ on-edge ready for action.
. 2. It prepares us mentally. We start thinking about dangerous situations before we get to them – what might
happen and the chance of getting hurt. It's better not to get into a dangerous situation in the first place and the apprehension
and doubt we experience helps us to decide whether to face it or not. (See: Worry).
The current worldview of this anxiety problem is based on the medical model, which views such problems as mental illnesses, 'disordered behaviour',
caused by something going wrong in the brain and the answer lies in 'fixing' the thing that has gone wrong – often with medication.
Take the middle-aged woman, (emotionally fragile from early life stress and conflict), who suffers emotional abuse at the hands of her
partner – abuse that not only scares her but also makes her feel that she cannot do anything right, and that everything she
does fails miserably or is totally worthless. Is her generalized anxiety disorder simply the result of something
going wrong in her brain that can be fixed by medication?