For Rohan Saraogi (name changed), a creative copywriter at one of the leading advertising agencies in the country, it grew stressful; to constantly be on-the-go, and come up with new, creative campaigns for more than his fair share of client briefs. Over time, the stress of his creative job got the better of him, and Saraogi found himself thinking well within that box. This constant worry meant he was always on edge, became distant and shut out friends, family, and even co-workers.
While Saraogi’s condition may seem like the result of a stressful job alone, if left unchecked, it can lead to serious mental health issues. And for Saraogi, his condition was later diagnosed as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
What is it?
GAD is anxiety and stress caused over a long duration of time, owing to the things happening around you, no matter how big or small. According to Dr Mehezabin Dordi, clinical psychologist, rehabilitation and sports medicine department, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, “GAD is a form of severe, ongoing anxiety that causes intense distress, discomfort, and interferes with daily activities (social, occupational, or other important aspects of functioning). It is also known as Chronic Anxiety Neurosis.”
Difference between GAD and anxiety
Before diagnosing someone, it’s important to understand the difference between GAD and anxiety. Dr Seema Hingorrany, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist and trauma specialist, points out, “While anxiety comes and goes, the feelings of anxiety in GAD persist over a long period of time; typically a diagnosis is made if the symptoms have been present for six months or more.”
Signs and symptoms
The common signs and symptoms include restlessness, listlessness, and being in a constant state of worry. Dr Shambhavi Jaiman, consultant psychiatrist at Sukoon Health, Gurgaon, elaborates, “A person with GAD may experience continuous feelings of nervousness, trembling, muscular tension, sweating, lightheadedness, palpitations, dizziness, and gastric discomfort. They may also experience apprehension about going about their day, and some might constantly feel on the edge.”
Additionally, Dr Hingorrany states that a change in appetite and lack of concentration are two telling signs of GAD. (Let’s look at this example: If a patient worries about what they should eat, something as simple as this can have an adverse effect on them, and this lack of focus can render them unproductive). GAD can interfere with a patient’s daily life and cripples their thought process.”
GAD and other mental illnesses
One may notice that some symptoms of GAD tend to overlap with other mental illnesses, like depression. These include sleep issues (insomnia or constantly sleeping), irritability, restlessness, and lack of concentration. However, a background check is important to understand the root cause. "If a patient has experienced any trauma—whether recently or during their childhood—we need to understand the events that may have triggered such behaviours,” says Dr Hingorrany.
Worthlessness, preoccupation, self-blame, and guilt are other emotional responses that are common with depression. With anxiety, patients experience a constant sense of doom. “Anxiety is mostly worrying about something that has not happened yet. You are in a constant state of ‘fight, flight, freeze’ and don’t know why,” Dr Hingorrany goes on to explain.
However, Dr Dordi further elaborates, “The physical symptoms of depression and anxiety can also help us differentiate between the diagnoses. Depression can be experienced in the body as aches and pains, but the real digestive issues tend to go with anxiety. Depression slows all physical functioning. Little energy is made available for movement, even of small facial muscles that display expression,” she says.
Unlike with depression, GAD employs a few remedies that can be done unsupervised. Dr Jaiman suggests the following coping mechanisms:
• Breathing techniques: Take breaths and work on various breathing exercises as advised by the doctor.
• Distraction techniques: Redirect your mind to focus on other things instead of what’s causing them worry. They can be encouraged to paint, listen to music, and even write down how they feel.
• Exercise: Regular physical activity can help reduce anxiety, as it tends to tire your mind and body out, leaving less space for intrusive thoughts.
If you choose to seek help under the guidance of a licenced therapist, Dr Hingorrany lists out some coping methods:
• Work with the therapist to identify the root cause of your anxiety or constant worries.
• Through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, your therapist will make you understand your negative beliefs and work with you to reject them or give them a positive spin. For example, if you have a thought such as “I am not good enough”, your therapist will try to delve into it deeper by asking you why you feel this way and encourage you to list down the things you’re good at, in order to help you change your perception about yourself.
• It’s also advisable to follow the advice of your therapist and maintain a journal where you can record all your thoughts and articulate your emotions. This helps both you and your doctor understand how your mind works.
• Practice mild meditation for improved sleep, which helps release serotonin, a hormone which stabilises mood, and feelings of well-being.