Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in Australia with at least one in four people experiencing anxiety at some period in their lives. In a 12 month period, over two million Australians will experience anxiety. The sooner those suffering with anxiety seek treatment, the more likely they are to recover and be able to function on a day-to-day basis.

What Is Anxiety?

A common misconception about anxiety is that it's only caused by feeling worried, stressed, or under pressure. However for many these anxious feelings can occur for no visible reason, or can continue after a stressful situation has passed.

For a person feeling they're struggling with anxiety, their anxious feelings and/or sense of worry cannot be controlled easily without feeling a form of hopelessness. It can be a serious condition creating difficulty in a persons daily life, however treatment is available and recovery is achievable.

What Are The Symptoms?

There are many types of anxiety, both short and long term. The symptoms for each type do vary, however general signs and symptoms can include:

  • Feeling worried and anxious
  • Feeling overwhelmed or fearful from a sudden wave of feelings including panic and/or anxiety
  • Experiencing negative recurring thoughts contributing to feelings of anxiousness
  • Difficulty in being able to regulate your anxiety to calm down
  • Experiencing growing stages of nightmares and night terrors
  • Avoidance of social situations or crowded venues due to anxious feelings
  • Trembling and shaking in the body
  • Shortness of breath and hot flashes or chills
  • Negative anticipation of events or scenarios
  • Lack of sleep and/or restlessness

What Are The Causes?

Anxiety is generally a combination of factors which can also be caused by a pre-existing condition including;

  • Panic disorders
  • Generalised anxiety disorder (G.A.D)
  • Phobic disorders
  • Stress disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Family history of mental health problems
  • Physical health problems
  • Substance abuse

However it does vary depending on each persons medical history, which will be discussed with your doctor.

Treating Anxiety

There are various health professionals and mental health support services available to help with the treatment and support of anxiety, along with various tools and techniques to allow patients to learn how to manage their condition.

Treatments are dependent on the type of anxiety experienced by the patient, with some symptoms able to be treated and relieved with lifestyle changes such as change of diet, regular physical exercise and self-help therapies.

Psychological Treatments

Symptoms of anxiety which are moderate to severe generally require psychological and/or medical treatments. Psychological treatments are the most effective in treating anxiety, and may not only help a person recover but can also help prevent recurring episodes of anxiety. There are various types of treatments which help patients learn new skills to manage their symptoms including Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). Psychological therapies are undertaken face-to-face with a trained professional, and there are also many growing online resources providing online course modules via the internet.

Medical Treatments

There are various types of anti-depressant medication tailored to help patients manage both their anxiety and depression, as both conditions generally occur together. As some forms of anxiety can be either short or long term, anti-depressants are considered to be an ideal treatment for a long period of time as opposed to using other forms of medication including benzodiazepines, commonly known as a sedative.

Medical research shows that there are specific changes that occur in the brains organic chemical balance; serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. These are compounds which act as a neurotransmitter. Anti-depressants correct the chemical imbalances of neurotransmitters (or simply known as neurons) in the brain which are probable to cause changes in our mood and behavior.

The prescription of anti-depressant medication should be made in consultation with your doctor, and are generally not recommended for patients under the age of 18 years old.

How To Manage Anxiety

  • Stick to your treatment plan; visit your health practitioner on a regular basis to ensure you are on track with your recovery
  • Learn how to relax; meditate daily in the morning and/or evening to assist with mood elevation, mindfulness and muscle relaxation
  • Postpone or be mindful of major life changes ie moving house, changing jobs, making commitments
  • Talk to your close family and friends about your current diagnosis and how they can support you; your psychologist can help you in addressing this
  • Develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle; regular exercise such as a simple 30 minute brisk walk or yoga routine each day along with a diet containing good nutrients can aid in managing symptoms whilst providing distractions from negative thoughts
  • Reduce alcohol, drugs and other stimulants; particularly caffeine (coffee and tea), excess added sugars and party drugs (cocaine, speed, ecstacy and ice)

How To Get Help

Your General Practitioner (GP) will be your best first point of contact in order to gain an official diagnosis. This will help assess which treatment plan will be suitable for you. This may include;

  • Medication
  • Referral to a mental health practitioner ie: clinical psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor

Your Mental Health Treatment Plan will also be arranged in order to receive a Medicare rebate for any necessary treatment with your new psychologist.

Definitions & References

Psychologists are trained and qualified mental health professionals who provide psychological therapies such as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) at both an emotional and psychological level. Sessions can be conducted with either an individual or a group, and can provide various methods on how to manage existing symptoms.

Psychiatrists are doctors who are also extensively trained in mental health in order to make both medical and psychiatric diagnoses. Psychiatrists will generally administer medication deemed suitable to treat a patients condition, in a private practice and/or psychiatric hospitals

Counsellors are trained to give guidance on personal problems. Common personal problems include difficulties with relationships and life circumstances, grief, anxiety and depression.

Statistical Data Reference: Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007/2008).
National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007 (4326.0 & 1301.0).
Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.