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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.

Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don't subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.

What Causes Anxiety?

Family history of mental health problems

People who experience anxiety often have a history of mental health problems in their family. However, this doesn't mean that a person will automatically develop anxiety if a parent or close relative has had a mental illness.

Ongoing stressful events

Stressful events can also trigger symptoms of anxiety. Common triggers include:

  • job stress or job change
  • change in living arrangements
  • pregnancy and giving birth
  • family and relationship problems
  • major emotional shock following a stressful or traumatic event
  • verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma
  • death or loss of a loved one.

Physical health problems

Continuing physical illness can also trigger anxiety or complicate the treatment of either the anxiety or the physical illness itself. Common conditions that can do this include:

  • hormonal problems (e.g. overactive thyroid)
  • diabetes
  • asthma
  • heart disease

If there is concern about any of these conditions, ask a doctor for medical tests to rule out a medical cause for the feelings of anxiety.

Substance use

Heavy or long-term use of substances such as alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines or sedatives can cause people to develop anxiety, particularly as the effects of the substance wear off. People with anxiety may find themselves using more of the substance to cope with withdrawal-related anxiety, which can lead to them feeling worse.
 

Personality factors

Some research suggests that people with certain personality traits are more likely to have anxiety. For example, children who are perfectionists, easily flustered, lack self-esteem or want to control everything, sometimes develop anxiety during childhood or as adults.

Everyone is different and it's often a combination of factors that can contribute to a person developing anxiety. It's important to note that you can't always identify the cause of it or change difficult circumstances.

The most important thing is to recognise the signs and symptoms of anxiety and to seek help. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can recover.


Signs and symptoms:

The symptoms of anxiety are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know how much is too much.

Some common symptoms include:

  • hot and cold flushes
  • racing heart
  • tightening of the chest
  • snowballing worries
  • obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour.

These are just some of a number of symptoms that may be experienced. If you are familiar with any of these symptoms, check the more extensive list of symptoms common to the different types of anxiety disorders below. They are not designed to provide a diagnosis – for that you need to see a doctor – but they can be used as a guide.

Generalised anxiety disorder

For 6 months or more, on more days than not, have you:
  • felt very worried
  • found it hard to stop worrying
  • found that your anxiety made it difficult for you to do everyday activities (e.g. work, study, seeing friends and family)?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, have you also experienced 3 or more of the following:
  • felt restless or on edge
  • felt easily tired
  • had difficulty concentrating
  • felt irritable
  • had muscle pain (e.g. sore jaw or back)
  • had trouble sleeping (e.g. difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep)?

Phobias (specific and social)

Have you felt very nervous when faced with a specific object or situation? For example:
  • flying on an aeroplane
  • going near an animal
  • receiving an injection
  • going to a social event?
Have you avoided a situation because of your phobia? For example, have you:
  • changed work patterns
  • not attended social events
  • avoided health check-ups
  • found it hard to go about your daily life (e.g. working, studying or seeing friends and family) because you are trying to avoid such situations?

Panic disorder

Within a 10 minute period have you felt 4 or more of the following:
  • sweaty
  • shaky
  • increased heart rate
  • short of breath
  • choked
  • nauseous or pain in the stomach
  • dizzy, lightheaded or faint
  • numb or tingly
  • derealisation (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (feeling detached from yourself or your surroundings)
  • hot or cold flushes
  • scared of going crazy
  • scared of dying?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, have you also: felt scared, for 1 month or more, of experiencing these feelings again?

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Have you:
  • experienced or seen something that involved death, injury, torture or abuse and felt very scared or helpless?
  • had upsetting memories or dreams of the event for at least 1 month?
  • found it hard to go about your daily life (e.g. work, study, getting along with family and friends)?
If you answered yes to all of these questions, have you also experienced at least 3 of the following:
  • avoided activities that remind you of the traumatic event
  • had trouble remembering parts of the event
  • felt less interested in doing things you used to enjoy
  • had trouble feeling intensely positive emotions (e.g. love or excitement)
  • thought less about the future (e.g. about career or family goals)?
and have you experienced at least 2 of the following:
  • had difficulties sleeping (e.g. had bad dreams, or found it hard to fall or stay asleep)
  • felt easily angered or irritated
  • had trouble concentrating
  • felt on guard
  • been easily startled?

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Have you:
  • had repetitive thoughts or concerns that are not simply about real life problems (e.g. thoughts that you or people close to you will be harmed)
  • Done the same activity repeatedly and in a very ordered, precise and similar way each time e.g.:
    • constantly washing your hands or clothes, showering or brushing your teeth
    • constantly cleaning, tidying or rearranging things at home, at work or in the car in a very particular way
    • constantly checking that doors and windows are locked and/or appliances are turned off
  • felt relieved in the short term by doing these things, but soon felt the need to repeat them
  • recognised that these feelings, thoughts and behaviours were unreasonable
  • found that these thoughts or behaviours take up more than 1 hour a day and/or interfered with your normal routine (e.g. working, studying or seeing friends and family)?
Article Courtesy: Beyondblue Organisation

 

 

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