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Anxiety - symptoms, treatment and causes

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder that can affect ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks.

'Don't worry, be happy' - so the song goes, but is it really that easy? Anxiety has an important role to play in helping us get around safely in the world and it can be a beneficial 'early warning system' in a range of experiences. But for millions of Australians suffering from anxiety disorders, worries are a constant feature of everyday life.

People with anxiety disorders may be unable to stop worrying about seemingly unimportant things, and they can perceive situations as much worse than they actually are. Anxiety interferes with the enjoyment of life and disrupts work, relationships and self-perceptions. These are, however, treatable conditions, and learning about them is an important first step.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders, affecting one in four Australians at some stage in their life. Women are more likely to develop anxiety than men, but it is not clear why. There are many forms of anxiety disorder but the one thing they have in common is their impact on day-to-day activities.

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate, sleep and carry out ordinary tasks at work, home or school. People with anxiety disorders often feel compelled to avoid stressful situations and in extreme cases avoid going out altogether. Physical symptoms are common and include shortness of breath, a pounding heart and trembling hands.

Anxiety disorders can be caused by either one or a combination of factors. These include genetic factors, ongoing stress, family background, physical health issues or a traumatic event. Talk to your doctor about your anxiety symptoms so they can make a diagnosis and decide on the most appropriate treatment or find other ways to manage your anxiety.

At any time, if you feel that you may harm yourself or have thoughts of suicide, talk to family or friends and inform your doctor as a matter of urgency. You can ring a phone service such as Lifeline 13 11 14, available 24 hours a day. If you are the loved one or carer, dial triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: November 2016

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