If you have or know someone that suffers from anxiety you will know that this is as much a physical illness as well as mental battle. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia and it’s important that we recognise how anxiety can affect people and how they live their lives.
What is Anxiety?
It is good to point out that the feeling anxiety is a natural and healthy emotion that we will all experience at some stage of our lives – it helps us make choices, and warns us of potential danger or fears. So, when do these normal feelings and emotions begin to change into a disorder?
Anxiety disorder is a mental health disorder that can lead to or bring excessive amounts of fear, apprehension, worry and nervousness into our thoughts that may start to affect our daily lives. These emotions can then alter the way a person processes their emotions and how they behave in certain situations or in general life. In any one year, around 1 million Australians have depression and over 2 million have anxiety. In this article we will take a look at how anxiety can impact people’s lives on a daily basis, where to get help and support, the different types of anxiety and how we can start to recover.
Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety
Many people will suffer some form of anxiety throughout their life. Normal forms a of anxiety come in the forms of stressful situations, life events like a job interview, or completing something that is out of the norm for them. The body responds to these situations by releasing adrenaline and cortisol – many know these as the stress hormones, which signal the body to prepare for a fight or flight situation. As your body releases more of these hormones it can have a chain reaction and you may start show some of the common signs listed below. This flight or fight response can be triggered by both real and imaginary threats.
Common signs of anxiety
- You may start to show physical signs such as rapid heart rate, trembling, upset stomach, muscle tension, headaches, feeling irritable, or panicky.
- You may start to over-think – worrying about things have may happen, or have happened in the past, negative thoughts about the future or yourself.
- You may start to behave differently, like avoiding situations, people, or places.
The difference between experiencing occasional feelings of anxiety and having a disorder, is the frequency of the persistent feelings and how reasonable they are if they’re not always linked to real challenges. This can have a pronounced effect on a person’s quality of life and overall functioning. It is good to know how to identify the difference between reasonable anxiety, and anxiety that happens for no clear reason. If we identify it in ourselves, a family member or a friend, it is important to seek help to manage severe anxiety. If you start to feel these emotions more often and for longer periods of time, there are many treatments that can help you start to feel better.
Types of Anxiety
Whilst anxiety disorders often restrict what people do, it is good to know that we all suffer from mild symptoms at some points in our lives. There are different types of anxiety and it is also good to know that these symptoms can begin at any age. According to Beyond Blue, one in seven young people between the ages of 4 and 17 years old will experience a mental health condition each year, and it’s important to notice the signs in your children as well as yourself. There different types of anxiety, and we explain a few of them here.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
People who are diagnosed with GAD feel anxious and worried most of the time, not just in certain stressful situations. These worrying thoughts are often intense, persistent and will interfere with their normal life. These worries are often related to everyday life as a collective, rather than just one issue, and could include work, health, family, or financial issues. Activities which we all complete – such as household chores – can become a focus for anxiety, and this leads to uncomfortable worries, and often the feeling that something terrible will happen.
Symptoms can include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Repeated stomachs aches
- Sweaty palms
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty sleeping
Separation anxiety is when someone shows signs of fear or anxiety that is considered inappropriate or outside of the normal range when they are separated from another person. You are considered to suffer from this disorder if you have more than four of the following symptoms:
- Recurrent episodes of distress when being separated from the person, or when they anticipate being separated from the person or from their home.
- Recurrent episodes of excess worry over things they are attached to, be it a person or belongings.
- Fearful of being left alone
- Recurrent nightmares about separation
- Feeling unwell when the feelings of anticipation about separating from home or a person occurs
- Refusing to sleep away from a person or place
If these feeling stay around for longer than 4 weeks in children, and 6 months in adults you may be suffering from separation anxiety. This disorder is rather common in children and can be typical of this developmental period, usually when their parents perhaps start back at work and there is a change in their routine.
Everybody gets nervous from time to time in social situations when we are receiving attention from others, whether this be people we know, at work or strangers. However, when you suffer from social anxiety or social phobia as it can be known, performing in front other people can bring on feelings of intense anxiety. The fear of being judged, criticised, laughed at and even humiliated in front of others when completing basic everyday tasks can become overwhelming. Even normal interactions with others can trigger debilitating worry and anxiety,
Common signs are:
- Excessive perspiration
- Blushing or stammering when trying to speak
These physical symptoms can often heighten those feelings of anxiety, as the person starts to think that others will notice their behaviour. Research shows that nearly 11% of the Australian population will experience social anxiety during their lifetime.
This disorder is described when someone suffers a panic attack. Individuals who suffer from panic disorder have sudden and repeated attacks of fear or anxiety for can last several minutes, sometimes longer. Many can describe them as a feeling like a heart attack, they can occur at anytime and those that suffer from them often worry about when they will occur. There are a few different reasons why you may experience a panic attack, and this could be down to family history, biological factors, or a negative experience.
Signs and symptoms:
- Sudden and repeated panic attacks of overwhelming anxiety and fear
- A feeling of being out of control
- Physical symptoms during the attack can be, pounding heart, sweating, chills, trembling, breathing problems, weakness, or dizziness, tingling or numb hands, chest, stomach pain.
- A fear or avoidance of places when the panic attacks have occurred in the past
- An overwhelming feeling of doom, or like something terrible is about to happen
Tips to help reduce anxiety
There are a few key things that everyone should employ if they’re experiencing anxiety of any type:
- Speaking with your doctor and getting a diagnosis should be your port of call to help your recovery and get great advice
- There is nothing better than talking, talk to a friend, counselor or your local support group
- Get your body moving – exercise might seem like the last thing you want to do, but releasing the body’s natural endorphins like dopamine and serotonin, will actually help you feel emotionally better.
- Make time for sleep, get eight to nine hours sleep every night.
- Caffeine can often give the nervous system a bit of a kick, so reducing or cutting out caffeine can really help, perhaps switching to decaf or a herbal tea.
- Healthy well-balanced meals at the right times! When you are feeling anxious you are often less likely to eat, but it is important not to skip meals as this will drop your blood sugar and this can cause the stress hormone to release.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. If you being to feel overwhelmed with people, errands, or situations, it is okay to say no to others. Help out when you can, but be aware of your limitations.
Whilst the factors surrounding severe anxiety disorders are relatively unknown, experts believe it to be a combination of factors, rather than one isolated incident. If anxiety starts to affect your life, it is important to seek support early if you are suffering from any of these above symptoms. Local support groups, and your GP will be able to offer the best advice and help in your local area. ConnectAbility offer a family counseling service, located at the Jesmond Neighbourhood Centre, where they provide a safe place to talk about any issues and feelings you are currently experiencing with our professional counsellors. They can provide strategies and resources to help you cope with them, and aid in living a life without the stress of anxiety. Contact us on (02) 49 789 555 or [email protected] to learn more about our family counselling services.