What is anxiety?
Anxiety refers to feelings of worry, nervousness, or a sense of apprehension, typically about an upcoming event where the outcome is uncertain, or where the person feels he or she might not be up to the task. Anxiety is commonly experienced in high pressure situations, for example, prior to a making a speech or sitting an exam. Feelings of anxiety can also arise following a stressful event, like an accident where the person is left feeling shaken. Anxious feelings are usually accompanied by physical sensations such as a churning stomach, light headedness, and a racing heart.
Signs and symptoms
Although the experience of anxiety will vary from person to person, feeling stressed, worried, and having anxious thoughts are common symptoms. Other common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Avoidance behaviour
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trembling or shaking
- Feeling light-headed or faint
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Upset stomach or nausea
While anxiety is considered a natural reaction to a stressful situation, for some people anxious thoughts, feelings, or physical symptoms can become severe and upsetting, interfering with their ability to go about their daily lives.Where symptoms of anxiety occur frequently, occur over a period of time, and interfere with daily life, it is typically considered an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental disorders diagnosed in Australia. There are a number of different types of anxiety disorder, including:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is characterised by persistent and excessive worry, often about daily situations like work, family or health. This worry is difficult to control and interferes the person’s day-to-day life and relationships.
People with a specific phobia experience extreme anxiety and fear of particular objects or situations. Common phobias include fear of flying, fear of spiders and other animals, and fear of injections.
Panic Disorder is characterised by the experience of repeat panic attacks – sudden surges of overwhelming fear and anxiety and physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness, and breathlessness.
Agoraphobia involves intense anxiety following exposure to, or anticipation of, a variety of situations such as public transportation, open spaces, crowds, or being outside of the home alone.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Individuals with OCD have recurring, persistent, and distressing thoughts, images or impulses, known as obsessions (e.g. a fear of catching germs), or feel compelled to carry out certain repetitive behaviours, rituals, or mental acts, known as compulsions (e.g. hand-washing). These thoughts and acts can take over a person’s life and while people with OCD usually know that their obsessions and compulsions are an over-reaction, they are unable to stop them.
Social Anxiety Disorder
In social anxiety disorder the person has severe anxiety about being criticised or negatively evaluated by others. This leads to the person avoiding social events and other public situations for fear of doing something that leads to embarrassment or humiliation.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD refers to a set of symptoms that can occur after exposure to a frightening and traumatic event. Symptoms include a sense of reliving the traumatic event (through ‘flashbacks’ or nightmares), avoidance of places, people, or activities which remind the person of the event, feeling numb or detached from others, having negative thoughts about oneself and the world, feeling irritable, angry, or wound up, and having trouble sleeping.
What causes anxiety disorders?
Whilst there is no single known cause of anxiety disorders, there are a number of risk factors or triggers that may contribute. These differ between the different anxiety disorders too. In general, the following factors may play a role:
certain anxiety disorders appear to have a genetic component, with some anxiety disorders running in families.
- Physical health:
Poor physical health can increase a person’s vulnerability to developing symptoms of anxiety.
- Thinking style:
patterns of thinking characterised by anticipating the worst, persistent negative self-talk, low self-esteem, and unhelpful coping strategies (e.g., avoidance) are linked to problem anxiety.
stressful events such as a marriage breakdown, work or school deadlines, financial hardship can act as a trigger for anxiety.
How a psychologist can help
Through discussion with the client and the possible use of questionnaires, the psychologist develops an understanding of the potential factors that might be contributing to the client’s anxiety. A treatment plan is then developed by the psychologist together with the person. For anxiety disorders, this can involve CBT, mindfulness, exposure therapy, relaxation and other helpful strategies.
The psychologist might also assist the person to address any lifestyle factors which may increase his or her capacity to better manage difficulties, and reduce symptoms of anxiety. They may also suggest involving a supportive family member or friend to assist in the understanding of the person’s situation and to support treatment.
(Article by Australian Psychological Society 2016)
Do you think you may be suffering from anxiety?
If you feel you may be suffering from anxiety, seek the advice of an experienced mental health professional. Visit your GP and discuss your concerns, book a longer appointment so there is time to explain your issues and how you are feeling.
Your GP may write a referral to a psychologist, which may entitle you to access Medicare rebates under the Federal Governments Better Access to Mental Health Care Rebate scheme.
Remember your Doctor and psychologist are there to help,and will not judge.
To book an appointment at Lifepath Psychology, or request further information about our services, please feel free to email your query to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 6496 0039 and one of our friendly staff will more than happy to assist.