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What is anxiety?


Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues that Australians experience, with nearly 1 in 7 people experiencing anxiety at some point​ over a 12 month period. But it is not always clear what anxiety is, and in fact many of our clients find it difficult to describe their symptoms. In this article, we will go through some of the more common symptoms of anxiety, and what treatments are available for anxiety. Anxiety is a broad terms of a number of different mental illnesses, but we'll look at the common aspects first. 

Symptoms of Anxiety

Although there are many different types of anxiety disorders, there are some common experiences and symptoms among anxiety disorders that we will highlight here. 

Common anxiety symptoms include:

  • disturbed sleep such as difficulty falling asleep or waking earlier than desired and unable to go back to sleep. Many people described a difficulty with turning their thoughts off. 

  • a feeling that your thoughts are "racing" or it's difficult to concentrate

  • Physical symptoms such as nausea, dry-retching, a sudden urge to go to the toilet, butterflies in stomach, rapid breathing or a sense of not being able to breathe, feeling hot and sweaty, or feeling faint or light headed

  • worrying thoughts about a future event or things that are uncertain

These are the more common symptoms of anxiety. However, some people experience more specific anxiety symptoms depending on what they are anxious about. ​For example, a person with social phobia would experience worrying thoughts that they will do something embarrassing in public, or a person with health anxiety worries that they will develop a life-threatening illness. 

Coping behaviours

People cope with anxiety in many different ways. What we have noticed, however, is that most people are trying to avoid the unpleasant experience​ of anxiety. These coping behaviours may present as:

  • avoidance of activities or events that trigger the anxiety such as going out socially or speaking in front of a group

  • increased alcohol or drug use

  • asking for reassurance

  • avoiding taking on responsibilities that would put them in anxiety provoking positions

  • procrastinating on important tasks

Treatment of Anxiety

The treatment for anxiety can differ depending on the specific anxiety disorder, but there are some over arching treatments that are common across all anxiety disorders.

Firstly, it's important to recognise the role of anxiety. While it is an uncomfortable feeling, our brain is essentially trying to protect us, by releasing stress hormones that prepare us for fight or flight mode. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that is responsible for this process, is part of our 'ancient', early developed brain. For the most part, we live in relatively safe environments, and we are not in constant threat like our ancestors. So our brain is looking for things to problem solve and protect us from. This can often mean worrying about fairly trivial events, as most of our clients tells us "I know it's irrational". 

So part of the treatment is about managing the physical symptoms of anxiety, which is usually the most uncomfortable part of anxiety, and the other part is learning to cope with the thought processes involved with anxiety. 

Physical treatment of anxiety can include breathing techniques, mindful relaxation techniques, and physical relaxation techniques. You might find this blog about breathing helpful: do you even know how to breathe?

Learning to cope with the thought processes involved with anxiety is a little more complex. It involves understanding why these thoughts bother you, and how to let them go. This might involve testing whether these worries have any truth to them, or by 'dropping the struggle' with these thoughts and letting them pass. These techniques come from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). 

More information

You might find the following blogs helpful:

Dealing with Worry

Perfectionism and anxiety

Anxiety and our body

Anxiety and chronic illness

Social anxiety

Overcoming self-doubt

If you would like to learn more about our psychologists at Grove Psychology, please click on their profiles below

Our Psychology Team

Click on the profile to find out more

Michael Philp
Clinical Psychologist

Michael is the principal Clinical Psychologist at Grove Psychology, with over 20 years of experience. Michael has a strong interest in anxiety and high performance. He is available Monday to Thursday

Corina Johns
Registered Psychologist

Corina has over 15 years experience as a psychologist, with a special interest in gender and sexual health issues. Corina is available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday

Donna Lawrence
Clinical Psychologist

Donna is a Clinical Psychologist with over 20 years of experience in a variety of settings including corporate health. She available on Saturday mornings

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