Updated 30 November 2020

What is Anxiety?

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What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental health conditions in Australia affecting 1 in 4 Australians at some stage in their life. Anxiety disorders can be experienced by men, women and children of all ages, however, they are more common in women more than men. There are many forms of Anxiety disorders and the consistent symptom for all forms is the significant detrimental affect it has on a person’s everyday activities. Anxiety and fear are normal human emotions that help us deal with dangerous situations. In anxiety disorders, the anxiety and fear is irrational and a prominent feature in daily life often resulting in social isolation that affects a person’s ability to work, study, or complete routine daily activities. The anxiety can also negatively affect the individual’s relationships. When anxiety begins to negatively affect an individual’s life it can be an indication of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and depression are commonly experience together.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety?

There are many forms of anxiety disorders but the main feature in all of them are constant fears or thoughts, which are distressing and affect a person’s everyday life. Common signs and symptoms include: -experiencing worry or being scared most of the time -feeling panicky, tense or on edge -being irritable and agitated -worried you are going crazy -feeling nauseous, like you want to vomit -feeling detached from your body -problems with concentration --dizziness difficulty sleeping-sweating -heart palpitations -abdominal pain or discomfort -pins and needles on parts of your body Because of the similarities of anxieties signs and symptoms with other medical conditions, it is important for individuals experiencing these to see their GP to provide a thorough examination and appropriate diagnosis.

Types of Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders can take on different forms. These include:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder:

This type of anxiety includes excessive anxiety and constant worry about many things where the generalised anxiety and worry is present most days over a six-month period and the person finds it difficult to control their anxiety.

Social phobia:

People with social phobia are afraid of being negatively judged by other people, which results in a fear of humiliating themselves in public. Situations that can lead to these fears can include public speaking, eating and drinking in public, attending social events and even using public toilets. The social phobia leads the individual to avoid the situations they fear and can then lead to isolation and avoiding people and activities.

Other phobias:

It is normal for individual’s to have minor fears of specific objects or situations, such as spiders, germs or heights, however these fears can become phobias when the fear becomes persistent, irrational and interring and in some extreme cases leading to physical symptoms and panic attacks. Some examples of fears are blood, spiders, germs, or lifts.

Panic disorder:

Panic disorder affects approximately 2% of the population. and is identified as frequent panic attacks and a strong and persistent fear of another panic attack occurring.

Separation anxiety:

This condition is related to attachments formed between individuals, such as those between a child and parent and the fear associated with being separated from them. The disorder is diagnosed when the fear of separation is exaggerated and persistent. It can begin in childhood or adulthood. It is most commonly experienced by children when they are separated from their guardians or parents especially when being taken to daycare or school.

Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition

Individuals can experience an anxiety disorder as the result of being diagnosed with a medical condition. Some of the medical conditions which may cause anxiety are as follows: -heart conditions -thyroid problems -asthma It is important that any anxiety is assessed to ensure it is not associated with any of these conditions.

Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD:

Is experienced when you have gone through a really traumatic experience as a child or as an adult and the severe symptoms of anxiety have been present for at least one month.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

The feature of OCD is the repetitive performance of ritualistic behaviours in an attempt to relive anxiety caused by constant uncontrollable thoughts/fears. One example is the constant uncontrollable hand washing because of anxiety and fear of germs.

Treatment

For anxiety disorders it is important to seek help as there are many treatment options available. The treatments available depend upon the type of anxiety disorder you have, its severity and what will work for you. Recovery from anxiety disorder is possible with the right treatment and support. Treatment for anxiety disorders can include the following:
  • Lifestyle changes – certain lifestyle factors such as consuming caffeine, alcohol or cigarettes/nicotine can contribute to anxiety. Therefore, lifestyle changes to reduce the consumption of these can help to reduce anxiety.
  • Anxiety management and relaxation techniques – these techniques can include meditation, breathing exercises, deep muscle relaxation and/or counselling.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a psychological intervention that focuses on changing patterns of thinking, behaviours and beliefs that may trigger anxiety.
  • Exposure therapy – a psychological intervention that involves safely and gradually exposing the individual to situation/s that trigger anxiety. This is a systematic desensitisation of the stressor to reduce the anxiety associated with them.
  • Medication – certain medications can be used to help reduce anxiety, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines. It is always best to use medication in conjunction with other treatments for anxiety.