Anxiety is a natural response to stress. However, that fact will provide little consolation if your symptoms are so severe as to send you to a hospital emergency department fearing a heart attack or some other life-threatening illness.
The reality is that for some, stress and fear can become so overwhelming and persistent that it can evolve into an anxiety disorder, impacting daily life and overall well-being.
If this sounds like your experience, you are not alone. Anxiety is one of the most common mental health and well-being issues in Australia with more than 17% of people aged 16-85 years reporting an anxiety disorder in the past two years.
Additionally, studies show an anxiety disorder will affect nearly 30% of all adults at some stage in their lives. Fortunately, anxiety disorders are treatable and symptoms can be effectively managed for better physical and mental health.
What Are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions where you may have excessive worry, fear or apprehension. These emotions are often irrational and can interfere with daily activities and decision-making.
While anxiety is a natural response to stressors and can help prepare you to face challenges or threats, in some cases it can also hinder your ability to cope and function normally.
When anxiety becomes chronic and uncontrollable, it can lead to significant distress and impairment of every-day life.
How Common Are Anxiety Disorders in Australia?
Anxiety disorders are common in Australia, affecting a substantial portion of the population.
A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics study reported more than 17%, or one in six Australians, had a 12-month anxiety disorder last year.
The ABS stats showed:
- Females were more likely than males to have had a 12-month anxiety disorder (21.1% compared with 13.3%)
- Almost one in three people (31.8%) aged 16–24 years had a 12-month anxiety disorder
- Two in five females (40.4%) aged 16–24 years had a 12-month anxiety disorder
- One in two people (50.3%) who described their sexual orientation as gay or lesbian, bisexual or who used a different term had a 12-month anxiety disorder
- One in four people (25.6%) living in one parent family households with dependent children had a 12-monthaAnxiety disorder
Types of Anxiety Disorders
There are several types of anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety and separation anxiety.
Here are some of the most common types:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a common and often long-lasting mental health condition characterised by excessive and uncontrollable worry and anxiety about various aspects of life, such as work, relationships, health or everyday situations. Unlike specific phobias or panic disorder, which are focused on triggers or situations, GAD involves chronic and persistent worry that can be difficult to control.
Panic disorder is a specific type of anxiety disorder characterised by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. These panic attacks are often intense and accompanied by overwhelming fear and a range of physical and psychological symptoms. Panic disorder can significantly impact a person’s daily life and well-being, as individuals with this condition often worry about when the next panic attack will occur.
The cause of panic disorder is not known, but it is believed to be influenced by a combination of genetic, biological and environmental factors. Traumatic experiences, chronic stress and a family history of anxiety disorders may increase the risk of developing panic disorder.
Phobias are intense, irrational fears of specific objects or situations. These fears are disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the feared object or situation. Common phobias include fear of heights (acrophobia), spiders (arachnophobia) and flying (aviophobia).
People with phobias often go to great lengths to avoid the thing they fear, which can significantly impact their daily lives and quality of life.
Social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, is an intense fear of social situations and scrutiny by others. People with social anxiety often experience significant distress and anxiety in social interactions, making it difficult for them to engage in everyday activities such as work, school, or social gatherings.
While commonly associated with children, separation anxiety disorder can also affect adults. It involves excessive anxiety about being separated from a loved one or caregiver, leading to avoidance of separation situations.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, the first step is to visit your doctor to rule out any other physical cause. If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed a mental health professional can help with your treatment plan.
Help is available and there are effective treatments for anxiety disorders. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, a combination of treatment approaches may be beneficial. Treatments could include:
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is considered one of the most effective forms of treatment for anxiety disorders. CBT can help you identify and challenge irrational thoughts and beliefs that contribute to anxiety. CBT also teaches coping strategies and relaxation techniques to manage symptoms.
Exposure Therapy: For individuals with phobias, this is a component of CBT which involves gradually exposing individuals to the situations or activities they fear in a safe and supportive environment. Over time, repeated exposure helps reduce anxiety.
Medications: Antidepressant medications and anti-anxiety medications can be prescribed to help manage anxiety symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can help manage symptoms by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain.
Lifestyle Changes: Engaging in stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga and regular physical exercise can be beneficial in managing anxiety. Avoiding or moderating the consumption of caffeine and alcohol can also help.
Support: Support from mental health professionals, friends, and family can be invaluable in managing anxiety disorders.
9 Self-Help Tips for Coping with an Anxiety Disorder
Coping with an anxiety disorder can be challenging, but there are several self-help strategies that can complement professional treatment and improve your overall well-being. Here are some effective self-help tips for managing anxiety:
Education and Self-awareness
- Learn about your anxiety disorder. Understanding the causes, triggers and symptoms can help you feel more in control.
- Keep a journal to track your anxiety triggers and patterns. This can help you identify specific situations or thoughts that contribute to your anxiety.
Stress Management and Relaxation Techniques
- Practice deep breathing exercises to calm your body’s physiological response to stress.
- Try progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation or guided imagery to reduce anxiety.
- Engage in activities you find relaxing such as reading, listening to soothing music or taking a warm bath.
- Regular physical exercise is known to reduce anxiety. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
- Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol:
- Limit or avoid the consumption of caffeine, as it can exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
- Avoid recreational drugs and alcohol, as they can increase anxiety and disrupt sleep patterns.
Get Enough Sleep:
- Establish a regular sleep schedule and create a calming bedtime routine.
- Prioritise getting enough sleep, as sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety.
Eat Healthy Foods:
- Maintain a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
- Limit the consumption of sugary and highly processed foods, as they can affect mood and energy levels.
Learn Coping Strategies:
- Cognitive-behavioural techniques can help you challenge and reframe negative thoughts and beliefs associated with anxiety.
- Develop a toolbox of coping strategies such as positive self-talk and problem-solving skills to manage anxious thoughts and situations.
Identify Your Triggers:
- Pay attention to situations, people or thoughts that trigger your anxiety. Identifying your triggers can help you prepare for and manage anxiety more effectively.
Limit Exposure to Stressors:
- Whenever possible, minimise exposure to situations or people that consistently trigger your anxiety.
- Create boundaries to protect your mental well-being.
Get Professional Treatment and Support
If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our psychologists can provide treatment options and offer guidance and support on your journey to better mental health.
To make an appointment simply give us a call or fill out the contact form on our contact page with your details and we’ll call you to confirm.