What is Anxiety and How to Treat it

Anxiety is a normal feeling and often helpful in dangerous situations. Anxiety can help us avoid danger, triggering our 'fight or flight' response. When we cross the road, it’s anxiety that makes us look both ways, when walking alone in the dark, it’s anxiety that makes us be cautious, and when having an exam, it’s anxiety that pushes us to study in order to pass. Anxiety only becomes problematic when someone feels anxious often and disproportionately to a threat, and it gets in the way of living life. In such cases, anxiety can turn into an anxiety disorder. 

Anxiety disorders form a category of mental health diagnoses that lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, worry and physical changes such as increased blood pressure. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia with up to one-third of women and one-fifth of men experiencing it at some point in their lives. There are a number of different anxiety disorders, for example; Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Specific Phobia, Agoraphobia, Selective Mutism, Social Anxiety Disorder/ Social Phobia and Social Anxiety Disorder. The symptoms will often be quite similar, however with some differences in-regards to context.

What are some symptoms of an anxiety disorder?

  • Racing heart, faster breathing, shaking, sweating or feeling dizzy

  • Feeling sick in the stomach (or butterflies)

  • Feeling tense in the body or having headaches

  • Restlessness, and a feeling of being "on-edge"

  • Uncontrollable feelings of worry

  • Increased irritability

  • Concentration difficulties

  • Sleep difficulties, such as problems in falling or staying asleep

  • Withdrawing from social events

5 ways to manage anxiety symptoms:

  1. Self-care:

    Take some time to do things you enjoy, or even time out just for yourself. Managing anxiety begins with looking after yourself. A warm bath, a favourite TV show or book, writing in a journal or seeing a good friend. Also, eating healthy, sleeping well, and staying active can help with overall mental wellbeing which will help alleviate feelings of anxiety.

  2. Limit intake of alcohol, caffeine or other stimulants:

    Caffeine and alcohol are stimulants that impact the brain and nervous system. In small doses, they can make you feel good for the time being. In large doses or overusing them, can make you feel anxious and have difficulty sleeping. As caffeine increases the circulation of chemicals such as cortisol and adrenaline in the body, it can increase breathing, heart rate, mental alertness and physical energy - which are not a good mix for someone with anxiety.

  3. Take notice of your thinking patterns:

    Thinking about what’s causing, influencing or worsening your anxiety can assist in understanding how to manage it. Triggers are important to recognise as they are the key to unlocking where this is coming from and you can begin to work on these.

  4. Do not avoid situations:

    Although avoiding situations (especially with social anxiety or agoraphobia) sounds like the logical thing to do in order to not cause anxious feelings, it’s hindering treating it. Avoidance becomes like a habit and harder to break each time it’s done. It is only a quick fix, but in the long run can make the anxiety worse. This is because you don’t allow yourself to learn that the thing you fear may not happen or be as bad as you think, so the monster (anxiety) keeps growing. Using certain techniques and self-talk, you can learn to face these situations.

    Also, isolating yourself from friends and family can make anxiety worse, as support is very important.

  5. Breathing techniques and mindfulness:

    Anxiety symptoms involve a cycle of physical sensations (eg; increased heart rate, fast breathing, sweating, etc). Learning to control your breathing is a good way to try to cut that cycle, and reduce the breathing which will decrease heart rate and put the body back to a calmer state. There are many different types of breathing and mindfulness techniques - find ones that work best for you.

If you or a loved one are suffering from an anxiety disorder and would like some support, then give us a call to make an appointment with one of our team of Psychologists.