Today, more than ever we are living in uncertain times. It’s normal to feel anxious under these circumstances. This kind of anxiety is usually transitory. However, if you have generalized anxiety disorder, then you will feel worried most of the time without being able to pinpoint any particular trigger. What’s more, you may find it difficult to control your worry and keep the anxiety from interfering with your everyday activities.
Common characteristics of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are excessive anxiety and worry about every day, routine things such as your job, health, finance, family members or your children, or seemingly minor matters such as being late for an appointment. In any given year, 2.9% of adults in the United States have generalized anxiety disorder, and in other countries it can range from 0.4% to 3.6% of the population.
Extreme worry can be exhausting as it takes time and energy both in your mind and your body. Symptoms associated with GAD include muscle tension, feeling on edge, difficulties concentrating and sleep disruptions.
So, why do people develop generalized anxiety disorder?
Let’s look at a biopsychosocial model of GAD. The biopsychosocial model was introduced by George Engel who believed that to get a full understanding of mental illness then we need to study the individual’s body, mind and social circumstances. Let’s look at the biological, psychological and social conditions that contribute to generalized anxiety disorder.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), “one-third of the risk of experiencing GAD is genetic.” Which means that there’s a strong link between GAD and people who have a history of mental health problems in their family. However, this doesn’t mean that you will absolutely get an anxiety disorder if a close relative has it, but it does mean that you are more at risk of an anxiety disorder than someone else who does not have this in their family history.
While the median age of onset for generalised anxiety disorder is aged 30, many people retrospectively report having felt anxious all of their lives. If you tend to be emotionally sensitive, nervous or perfectionistic, then you may be at greater risk of developing GAD.
Social and environmental factors refer to all the things that happen in the world around us. This may include our childhood experiences (such as trauma, childhood abuse), relationships, and significant life events (such as a relationship breakdown, loss, moving house or changing jobs). Factors that may contribute to GAD include a difficult childhood and parents who were overprotective, however neither of these specifically lead to GAD.
In summary, there are many- often a combination of- factors which contribute to the development of generalized anxiety disorder. For many people, knowing that there is no one singular reason for GAD means they have some element of control over the disorder. Treatment requires addressing a combination of psychological, biological and social factors.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Engel, G.L. (1977) ‘The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine’, Science, vol. 196, pp. 129-36.
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