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Anxiety

Overview

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear or imminent disaster and is a normal emotional response to danger. It can be part of your genetic and biochemical make-up, as well as a part of your personality.

There are many things that can trigger anxiety, such as your environment, stressful situations like exams, work pressure, family problems or a trauma.

Anxiety is also a very individual response. What makes one person anxious may not have the same effect on another person.

Feeling anxious is often perfectly normal, but there also times when it may interfere with normal day-to-day activities. This may be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms and treatments. Here is a list of the main ones:

  • general anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • social anxiety 
  • agoraphobia
  • claustrophobia
  • insomnia
  • panic disorder
  • specific phobias
  • hypochondria
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Anxiety can affect both your physical and mental health (behaviour and feelings).

Your doctor may ask you questions about your worries, fears and emotions. Tell them about all your symptoms - physical and psychological - and explain how long you have had them.

Sources: mindhealthconnect (Anxiety), NHS Choices, UK (Generalised anxiety disorder)

Just diagnosed

There are several things you can do to help you manage an anxiety disorder. If you have been diagnosed with a form of anxiety, you will usually be advised to try psychological treatment, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), before you are prescribed medicine.

Medicine may be helpful in managing symptoms and is something that your doctor or psychiatrist may advise as part of your treatment.

You should discuss all your treatment options with your doctor to decide on the most suitable options for you.

Extra support and information can be found at Anxiety Online. This is a comprehensive online mental health service offering information, assessment, online diagnosis and treatment programs ("eTherapy") for the anxiety disorders. It can be accessed at www.anxietyonline.org.au.

Sources: mindhealthconnect (Anxiety), NHS Choices (UK) (Generalised anxiety disorder - Treatment)

Living with

There are a number of strategies that can be used to deal with anxiety. For example, lifestyle changes that can help include:

  • looking at the things that are causing you stress so you can avoid or confront them
  • ensuring you are eating healthy foods and regular meals and participating in regular exercise to improve your overall health and wellbeing
  • learning to relax, for example going for a walk, doing a class like yoga or tai chi or learning to meditate
  • talking to people close to you and not “bottling things up” as this is likely to keep your anxiety levels high.

Research has shown that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is very effective in helping people overcome anxiety disorders, while medication may also be helpful in managing symptoms.

Most people will recover fully from a mental illness, especially if they receive help early.

Source: mindhealthconnect (Anxiety)

Facts & figures

  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders and affect nearly one in seven (14.4%) Australian adults over a 12-month period.
  • More women (17.9%) than men (10.8%) experience anxiety disorders.
  • It is estimated that approximately 45% of Australians aged 16-85 years (approximately 7 million people) experienced a mental disorder over their lifetime, while 20% (approximately 3 million people) experienced symptoms of a mental disorder over the 12 months prior to a survey.
  • Some people will only experience one episode of mental illness and recover fully while others may be well for long periods with occasional episodes. For a minority of people, periods of acute illness will occur regularly and some will experience ongoing disability.
  • Although some people experience significant disability as a result of ongoing mental illness, many others live full and productive lives.

Sources: Australian Bureau of Statistics (National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007), Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (Background to mental health services in Australia), mindhealthconnect (Anxiety)

Last reviewed: 
February, 2013