Anxiety is a normal part of life. However, for many people anxiety becomes a real problem because it occurs too frequently, is out of proportion to the circumstances, or interferes with their work, family and social life. A person with an anxiety disorder may experience intense, persistent worries or fears about everyday situations.
In Australia approximately 14 per cent of the population experiences an anxiety disorder in a 12 month period and nearly six per cent of the population will experience a generalised anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
We don’t know exactly what causes anxiety disorders, other than a combination of factors including a family history of mental health problems, stressful life events, long-term physical illness and personality traits.
Anxiety is a complex process and is not just about feeling nervous, worried or stressed. Anxiety is fundamentally a response to danger and often referred to as the fight or flight response.
It has a number of elements:
Physical symptoms that occur are the result of stress hormones and other body chemicals that cause racing heartbeat, dry mouth, rapid breathing, dizziness, nausea and light headedness.
Behavioural part of anxiety is where you may avoid certain situations that make you fearful, even though they are not necessarily dangerous. These can be public speaking, social engagements, crowded shopping centres, air travel and eventually even going to work or leaving the house.
- Psychological part is that we don't feel anxious unless we think there is a danger. This is when anxiety becomes a problem when our thinking about a situation is not realistic, because we overestimate the danger we face. People with excessive anxiety also have a tendency to underestimate their ability to cope with adversity, which compounds the problem.
There are two main types of treatment: psychological therapy and medication. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is the most commonly used treatment in mental health disorders and is very effective for anxiety and depression. It comprises learning a wide range of skills and responses to help you understand and accept your difficulties; become aware of unhelpful thinking; enable you to separate yourself from the anxiety by using logical analysis and self-questioning strategies; and to be active and get on track to living a valued life.
Treatment is available in the form of group therapy day program, or individual therapy as an outpatient.
Anxiety can hold you back from doing things you want or need to do, and affect your physical health. It can be hard to break this cycle, but you can learn to feel less fearful and to cope with your fear so it doesn't stop you enjoying life.