Test your own anxiety levels

Anxiety is a natural thing. Not only that, it’s essential – without anxiety we probably wouldn’t bother doing anything or even survive. Anixety is a motivator, that reminds us that there’s stuff to do, as well as a survival instinct that keeps us safe in dangerous situations. However, when anxiety begins to become an almost ever-present state of being, it can affect our wellbeing and increasingly encroach on our everyday lives, causing us to avoid anything that threatens to bring on an anxious feeling.

An anxiety disorder is said to exist when anxiety becomes long-lasting and severe, and affects a person’s work or relationships.  In 1988, Sir David Goldberg and colleagues at the Social Psychiatry Research Unit within the Australian National University came up with a ‘scale’ or set of questions that could be used to test anxiety levels. It’s simple and quick – so if you’d like to see whereabouts you sit on the scale, read the following questions and write down an answer (‘yes’ or ‘no’) for each question on a piece of paper.

The Goldberg Anxiety Scale
In the past month, for most of the time:

  1. Have you felt keyed up, high-strung or on edge?
  2. Have you been worrying a lot?
  3. Have you been irritable?
  4. Have you had any difficulty relaxing?
  5. Have you been sleeping poorly? (too much or too little)
  6. Have you had headaches or neck-aches?
  7. Have you had any of the following: trembling, tingling, dizzy spells, sweating, frequent urination, or diarrhoea?
  8. Have you been worried about your health?
  9. Have you had difficulty falling asleep?

Interpretating the test
Score one point for each ‘yes’. Most people have some of these symptoms – the average score for the test is four – but the higher the score, the more likely you are to be experiencing anxiety at a level that is affecting and disrupting your life. It may be that you are aware of an event in your life that has caused temporary anxiety, and that you feel the fog is lifting. But if you are troubled by some of the symptoms, and have noticed they are beginning to affect your ability to function on a daily level, this may be a good time to seek professional help from your doctor and consider counselling. Many people seek help for anxiety, because it responds to all sorts of treatments, from simple self-help strategies to counselling and  short-term medication. It is not a ‘character flaw’ or ‘weakness’, but a natural instinct that sometimes runs on overtime, especially when we’re trying to take on especially challenging responsibilities.

In my next post I’ll list some effective self-help strategies for reducing anxiety, including ways to calm the body and mind. As always, thanks for reading.

Sarah Tomley is a counsellor and author working in Suffolk, UK at Insight Counselling Ipswich

What is Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but sometimes it can begin to take over a person’s life. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterised by a constant state of high anxiety that has continued for at least six months.
It is relatively common and is also known as ‘chronic worrying’ or ‘free-floating anxiety’, because it continues regardless of the reality of everyday life. People with GAD may find themselves worrying about daily issues such as work, health, money or relationships to an excessive degree, and be filled with a horrible sense that something very bad is going to happen. GAD can affect daily functioning in physical, mental and emotional ways, and make life increasingly difficult, as tension, fatigue and lack of sleep begin to increase the level of the worry cycle.
How anxiety differs from fear
Unlike fear, which is a response to an event, anxiety is worry about events that may occur in the future; it is an emotional state produced not by events in the external world, but by worry in the person’s mind. This is the bad and the good news: because it is fear of the future, it can be seen as potentially present all the time. On the other hand, because it is an emotional state produced by the mind, it will disappear if the emotional state ceases to create it. People with GAD may have evolved strategies for managing the anxiety; most often they prevent themselves from entering situations that could provoke anxiety by using ‘avoidant strategies’ such as distraction, excessive preparation (such as arriving very early for appointments) constant checking (that a door is locked, for instance), and procrastination (putting things off that need to be done). However, by avoiding these situations, they may be inadvertently causing the anxiety to grow, because the sense of dread and worry increases each time the feared situation is avoided.
Key symptoms
There are five main symptoms of GAD:
  1. A constant feeling of being ‘on edge’ or ‘keyed up’ which manifests as irritability and jumpiness
  2. Muscular tension
  3. Continual fatigue
  4. A tendency for the mind to ‘go blank’ and a lack of concentration
  5. Sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Other symptoms can also arise, such as impatience, feeling over-sensitive and reactive, loss of appetite, nausea, excessive urination, shallow, rapid breathing, palpitations, feeling faint, and experiencing a sense of dread or panic.

On a cognitive level, people with GAD have a tendency to ‘catastrophize’ and may find that they are expecting the worst possible scenario to emerge from situations. Confidence in problem-solving can take a dive, and decision-making can become difficult. They may also find themselves feeling hyper-alert to threatening stimuli and interpreting ambiguous situations as threatening.

Psychotherapy for GAD

Some therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focus on the perceptual biases that cause the negative thoughts and expectations, and CBT has been found to help reduce these thoughts and responses. However, when challenges to thinking patterns are combined with a therapy that also looks at emotional reactions and learned behaviour from past situations, new learning can take place at a deeper level, preventing a reaction from taking place, rather than managing an arising reaction. Recently, therapies such as Emotional Coherence therapy have suggested that anxiety can stem from a positive attempt to keep an important, learned code of behaviour in place, which may no longer be in the person’s best interest and so creates internal conflict and anxiety. Find out more about how anxiety can be serving a real but unconscious process here.
 As always, thanks for reading.
Sarah Tomley is a counsellor working in Suffolk, UK, at Insight Counselling Ipswich