What is Anxiety?

Everybody worries sometimes – in fact, without a little worry, we probably wouldn’t be very functional! We wouldn’t take any care when crossing the road, we would never bother to do our housework or homework, and we probably wouldn’t have any meaningful relationships. A little worry is normal, and indeed even necessary. A lot of worry, however, can cause us many problems.

Anxiety is the term we use to describe a persistent and severe level of worry that is out of proportion to the actual threat, that has a significant impact on our everyday life, and is distressing to us. Though anxiety describes a pattern of worry that is elevated beyond “normal”, it affects a significant number of Australians across the lifespan. Approximately 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience anxiety.[i] Anxiety also affects approximately 7% of children (aged 4-17 years old).[ii]

There is a wide range of anxiety symptoms that an individual can experience, some of which include:

  • Racing heart, breathlessness, or tightness of the chest
  • Nausea, dizziness, or feeling faint
  • Hot flushes and excessive sweating
  • “Snowballing” worries
  • Catastrophic thinking (always imagining the “worst case scenario”) and excessive fear
  • Restlessness and difficulty “winding down”
  • Perfectionistic tendencies (individuals may place excessive pressure on themselves, feel that they/their work is never “good enough”, and find it difficult to finish things)
  • Avoidance of anxiety-provoking situations
    • Such as busy social events, situations where one’s performance is evaluated (such as in a sporting environment), or unfamiliar places
    • Children may use complaints of physical sickness to avoid going to school or participating in certain activities (such as PE class, speaking in front of an audience, or taking tests/exams
  • Disrupted sleep
    • Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or feeling adequately rested
    • Children may complain of nightmares or not want to sleep alone

There are also different types of anxiety. Some of the most common types are listed below:

  • Generalized Anxiety (a general and debilitating sense of worry about many things)
  • Social Anxiety (fear of social situations, usually due to excessive worry about negative evaluation/appraisal by others)
  • Separation Anxiety (difficulty separating from one’s parent/caregiver, often due to fears that something bad could happen to their parent/caregiver or themselves)
  • Specific Phobias (fear of a very specific object, event, or situation, such as enclosed spaces, snakes, or dogs)
  • Panic (frequent and debilitating panic attacks, wherein an individual experiences overwhelming and acute levels of many anxiety symptoms within a short period of time)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive (obsessive or recurring thoughts/worries, which may then be acted upon in compulsive ways – such as sorting, counting, repeated hand-washing, etc.)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress (an anxiety-stress response following exposure to a traumatic event)

Can it be treated?

The good news is – yes! There are a number of evidence-based treatments that can be used to help individuals who are experiencing anxiety. Psychological therapy (and in particular, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is the leading treatment for anxiety. This kind of therapy helps individuals to understand their anxiety (each its associated thought patterns, physical symptoms, behaviours, and emotions), challenge unhelpful ways of thinking, manage anxiety symptoms, face fears using behavioural experiments and gradual exposure, and learn new relaxation and self-care skills. In severe cases of anxiety, medications may also be used as an adjunct to psychological therapy.

The best treatment or combination of treatments varies from person to person, and can be influenced by the type of anxiety experienced and how severe it is. Booking an initial appointment with one of our specialists is the first step towards understanding your anxiety, and deciding how best to treat it.

Here at The Health Hub, we have a whole team of highly trained specialist psychologists, who are able to provide evidence-based treatments to clients of all ages. We pride ourselves on our ability to tailor-make treatment plans collaboratively with each individual that are engaging and successful, and draw upon a variety of therapeutic techniques and resources. Your specialist psychologist will take the time to fully explore and understand your concerns and difficulties, and will work with you to develop the best possible treatment plan to overcome your anxiety.

 

[i] Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. no. (4326.0). Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra.

[ii] Lawrence, D., Johnson, S., Hafekost, J., Boterhoven De Haan, K., Sawyer, M., Ainley, J., Zubrick, S.R. (2015). The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Department of Health, Canberra.

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