Generalised anxiety disorder affects around 5% of the population, most commonly between the ages 35-59. There are many risk factors that increase the chances of suffering from generalised anxiety disorder. Women seem to be twice as likely to suffer from generalised anxiety disorder as compared to men.¹ Those suffering from chronic medical illnesses or alcohol and tobacco abuse also have a higher risk. Other specific risk factors include:
- Personality: People with an underlying neurotic personality have a higher chance of suffering from anxiety disorder and depression. ²
- Genetics: Those with a family history of anxiety disorders have an increased chance of suffering from generalised anxiety disorder, up to five times more likely if one has first degree family relatives suffering from anxiety disorders.³
- Brain chemicals: Some have suggested that changes in the chemicals in the brain may predispose one to an anxiety disorder, as would changes to the activity levels in parts of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour.
- Past experiences: Adults with the problem are more likely to have had traumatic experiences and other undesirable life events during their childhood.⁴
- Cognitive processing: Those suffering from anxiety disorder may perceive threats in a different way compared to those without, allocating extensive attention to certain stimuli and misinterpreting ambiguous information as threatening.
¹Kessler, R.C., Gruber, M., Hettema, J.M., Hwang, I., Sampson, N. and Yonkers, K.A., 2008. Co-morbid major depression and generalised anxiety disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey follow-up. Psychological medicine, 38(3), pp.365-374.
²Khan, A.A., Jacobson, K.C., Gardner, C.O., Prescott, C.A. and Kendler, K.S., 2005. Personality and comorbidity of common psychiatric disorders. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 186(3), pp.190-196.
³(2018). 'Overview - Generalised anxiety disorder in adults.' NHS. 19 December. Available at<https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/overview/>
⁴Safren, S.A., Gershuny, B.S., Marzol, P., Otto, M.W. and Pollack, M.H., 2002. History of childhood abuse in panic disorder, social phobia, and generalized anxiety disorder. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 190(7), pp.453-456
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