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Understanding and managing anxiety

September 4, 2014

“Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.” -Charles H. Spurgeon

Everyone occasionally experiences some anxiety. It is a normal response to a stressful event or perceived threat. For someone experiencing high anxiety, this often means interpreting situations negatively and having unhelpful thoughts. Symptoms can develop gradually which can make it difficult to work out when anxiety has become a serious issue and if anxiety is left untreated this can lead to depression. Anxiety can range from feeling uneasy and worried to severe panic. For many of us, worry can become a constant feature of everyday life. Anxiety is a treatable condition and learning about it is an important first step.

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks at work, home or school. People with anxiety disorders often feel compelled to avoid stressful situations and in extreme cases avoid going out altogether.

Individuals experiencing (mild, moderate, severe) anxiety may commonly experience physical and emotional symptoms. Examples of physical symptoms include:  shortness of breath, or breathing rapidly (hyperventilation), increased heart rate, mind racing making it difficult to think, trembling, sweating, feeling dizzy, muscle tension, headaches, stomach or chest pain, dry mouth and difficulty sleeping. Example of emotional symptoms can include excessive worry about the past, present or future, difficulty concentrating and feeling apprehensive.

Anxiety can be caused by one, or a combination of contributing factors. These may include genetic factors, ongoing stress (for example: job related stress, relationship breakdown, grief issues, abuse (verbal, physical, sexual), pregnancy childbirth etc.., It can also contribute from family background, physical health issues, a traumatic event, substance abuse and last but not least, personality types (for example: being a perfectionist, having low esteem or needing to be in control).

Common Types of Anxiety 1:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder is excessive, uncontrollable worry about a range of ordinary situations like health, work or finances. This worry can be difficult to control, leading to problems in concentration, restlessness and difficulty sleeping.
  • Panic disorder is associated with regular panic attacks, which are sudden intense episodes of irrational fear, shortness of breath, dizziness and other physical symptoms.
  • Social phobia causes people to avoid social or performance situations for fear of being embarrassed or rejected.
  • Agoraphobia is often associated with panic disorder, and involves avoiding certain situations due to fear of having a panic attack.
  • Specific phobias are irrational fears that only apply to one particular situation, such as a fear of animals, insects, places or people (for example claustrophobia is a specific fear of enclosed or confined spaces).
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involves unwanted thoughts and impulses (obsessions), causing repetitive, routine behaviours (compulsions) as a way of coping with anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when feelings of fear or avoidance do not fade after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic life event.

No matter what type of anxiety disorder you have, treatment is available. Counselling, lifestyle changes and medication are some of the ways you can overcome it.

Treatments for anxiety:

Mild anxiety may be treated with lifestyle changes, whereas more severe cases may require medication. Improvement and recovery is possible with the right care.

Common treatments include:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), which involves working towards changing any problematic thinking patterns that are causing anxiety. Behaviour therapy is a component of CBT and includes desensitisation – a method of slowly and safely exposing you to feared situations to reduce the anxiety that comes with them.
  • Breathing and relaxation techniques are especially important for physical symptoms, and deep breathing exercises can stop panic attacks effectively. Mindfulness and other types of meditation are also helpful for anxiety management.
  • Medication such as antidepressants can be necessary if the above treatments are not enough. Medication is usually recommended in combination with the therapeutic treatments above.
  • There are services, health care professionals and online support tools available to assist people with anxiety disorders. To read more about anxiety you can visit: www.beyondblue.org.au Where to get help:

    • Your doctor
    • Psychologists
    • Online support and therapy


    Image credit: https://www.newvitruvian.com/soul/

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