We all know what it’s like to be worried – when a loved one is late home, or while you’re waiting on an important test result, for example. This is a normal, healthy response to the unknown. But what if that feeling decided to stick around? What if you woke up feeling that way, and went about your day carrying that uneasy feeling and there was simply nothing that gave you any relief? There’s a good chance that you’d be suffering from anxiety.
Why it’s generally hidden
We don’t tend to talk a lot about anxiety, which is odd given that it’s the most common mental illness experienced in Australia, with around 14% experiencing the disorder in any year. The public conversations are more visible now than they ever were, thanks to tireless campaigners and mental illness organisations, but we’re still reluctant to simply come out and identify as a person suffering from anxiety. The stigma around such things is alive and well, despite the condition being medically well-supported by physicians and psychologists. Perhaps this is because the perception of anxiety by others is framed in such negative language – think worry-wart, nervous, scared, isolated, lacking confidence, panicky. As long as we think in these terms we will hold at least some people back from taking control of their symptoms and seeking the appropriate care.
What is anxiety and who is at risk?
Anxiety is a prolonged feeling of worry, fear and stress that persists after a stressful situation has resolved, or when there is no particular reason for the worry. It goes beyond mild nervousness – an anxiety disorder interferes with everyday life. It can cause panic attacks and specific or general phobias. It negatively affects the kinds of thought patterns of the sufferer, leading them to believe they are not good enough, they cannot cope or everything will turn out for the worst. It’s important to remember that anxiety does not just affect the mind, but has a measurable impact on the body as well. A person experiencing anxiety may have an elevated heart rate, an increased blood pressure, rapid breathing and feel the need to fidget or move repetitively.
Because there is no single cause of anxiety, we cannot readily identify who is at risk. There are certain risk factors, however:
- A family history of anxiety
- Biochemical factors, or a chemical imbalance in the brain
- Stress-inducing life experiences, such as family break up or trauma
- Personality traits, such as shyness or pessimism
- Behavioural traits, such as avoidance or non-confrontational behaviours
- Substance abuse
- Chronic disease that leads to feeling of isolation
Seeking help for anxiety
It’s okay to reach out – in fact, it may just be life-changing. A visit to a trusted family medical doctor to discuss your concerns and experiences will give you an excellent view of the treatments options available to you, from group therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling through a psychologist to anxiety-controlling medications. Anxiety can lead to chronic indecision, so the initial choice simply to find out your options can be a powerful one. Because there are options, and they can be tailored and individualised and very much suited to your specific needs.
Taking care of yourself
Being kind to yourself with positive and deliberate behaviours can also have far-reaching effects. Regular exercise, engaging in activities that bring you joy, relaxation techniques, good nutrition and avoidance of addictive behaviours all help you regain control of your mind and body. Many people also find mindfulness techniques helpful. These things may not help alone, but with continued supervision from your doctor may mean the difference between just coping and really enjoying life. For a more thorough examination of common mental health conditions and a list of helpful resources, see our Mental Health Guide.
If you’re considering seeking professional services to cope with anxiety, consider comparing private health insurance plans to benefit from the relevant rebates. If you are suffering or are worried about the well-being of a loved one, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14. The sooner an anxiety disorder can be managed, the sooner you can get back to a more fulfilling, positive life.