Understanding anxiety

The term ‘anxiety’ refers not to one single mental health condition, but to many different types. These include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder and various phobias. But what all these different conditions share in common is that the symptoms suffered affect the individual’s ability to function in everyday life.

Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition in Australia, with over two million people suffering from it each year. But just how easy is it to diagnose? Given that most of us experience many of the symptoms at different times, it can be difficult to know when there is a real cause for concern.

While an event such as a job interview might cause symptoms of anxiety, these usually subside once the stressor has passed. But for those who suffer from anxiety, these symptoms tend to last longer, be more frequent and are not always in response to a challenging event or other stressor.

Common symptoms across all anxiety conditions include:

  • physical: hot and cold flushes, tightening of the chest, racing heart, quick breathing, panic attacks, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy
  • psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophising, or obsessive thinking
  • behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious

If these symptoms sound familiar to you, the first step is to have an appointment with your GP. He or she will be able to talk with you in more detail about anxiety and your experience, diagnose if you have a mental health condition, and suggest further treatment. Treatments for anxiety vary, depending on the severity of the condition. For some, treatment may involve lifestyle changes, while others may require psychological support or medication. Again, your GP is the best starting point.

It is important that you do talk to a professional, such as your GP, if you’re experiencing anxiety, but there are a few strategies that can help as well. Make sure that you’re maintaining a healthy lifestyle – by eating well and getting regular exercise and sleep – and not using alcohol and drugs as coping mechanisms. Mindfulness practice, being outdoors and writing down your thoughts are other ways that might help. Taking slow, deliberate breaths is a strategy that I was taught a few years ago – to count to four while inhaling, hold for four seconds and then exhale over four seconds. Often when you turn your focus to your breathing, those other thoughts disappear, as your mind is concentrating on the current moment.

For further information and support:
Sane
Beyond Blue
Black Dog Institute

Written by Lucy

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