What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling of uneasiness, fear or worry. Everyone feels anxious from time to time whether it be stress over an exam, worry about family problems, or feeling nervous about giving a talk in front of an audience.
It is normal to feel tense or scared when facing a challenging or dangerous situation. Anxiety is the body's natural response to danger when we feel threatened. Sometimes, a degree of anxiety can be useful as it keeps us alert and focused and helps us respond to a challenging situation.
When is anxiety not normal?
Anxiety becomes a problem when it is constant and when fears and worries are interfering with your every day activities and relationships and preventing you from enjoying your life.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety can present in many different ways. Some of the things that people with anxiety may experience are:
- Excessive fear and worry
- Feeling tense and restless
- Trouble concentrating
- Feeling like your mind has gone blank
Anxiety may also involve a wide range of physical sensations including:
- Pounding heart
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty sleeping
Types of anxiety problems
Anxiety is very common and according to research one in four people will experience an anxiety problem at some stage in their lives. Anyone can experience high levels of anxiety including young children, adolescent and adults. There is a range of different anxiety types but the six most common forms are:
- Generalised Anxiety - People with this type of anxiety find it hard to stop worrying. They are constantly worried about a number of situations and this can make it difficult for them to carry out everyday activities (e.g. work, study, seeing friends). They often feel restless, tense or irritable and can have trouble concentrating or sleeping. People with generalised anxiety often have physical symptoms including muscle tension and stomach problems, or they feel constantly tired
- Specific phobia - When a person has a specific phobia he/she feels extremely fearful of a particular object or situation. As a result people may go to great lengths to avoid those objects or situations, which interfere with their daily life. Examples may include fear of going near an animal, receiving an injection or travelling on a plane
- Panic disorder - People with a panic disorder have panic attacks, which are intense, and often overwhelming episodes of anxiety. They also have a number of physical sensations including sweating, shortness of breath, accelerated heartbeat, stomach pain, dizziness or light-headedness. People experiencing a panic attack may think they are having a heart attack, ‘going crazy’ or about to die
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - People with obsessive compulsive disorder have unwanted and repetitive thoughts or behaviour that seems impossible to stop or control. For example, they may constantly wash their hands, or feel compelled to repeatedly clean or rearrange objects in a particular way. This causes significant distress and impacts negatively on their daily life
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder may occur after a person experiences a traumatic event (for example when a person is seriously injured, was in fear of their life or witnessed other people being injured or killed). The PTSD symptoms can include difficulty relaxing, disturbed sleep, problems with concentration and angry or irritable moods. People can also suffer from upsetting memories, dreams or flashbacks of an incident or the avoidance of anything related to the event
- Social Phobia - A person with Social Phobia has an intense fear of criticism, being embarrassed or humiliated in every day social situations (for example eating in public, public speaking or meeting new people). Their fear may be so overwhelming that it interferes with school or work or other ordinary activities
If you are concerned that you might have a problem with anxiety, it is important that you speak to someone who can help you, or who can refer you to someone who can help. See the bottom of this page for ideas of who to talk to.
What can you do to manage anxiety?
Although anxiety can sometimes be difficult to manage, there are a number of things which can help you to control your anxiety.
- Education - involves learning about anxiety, understanding signs and symptoms of anxiety and available treatment options. There are many useful web sites and self-help books available about anxiety
- Reaching out for support - talk to your family or a trusted friend about your problem
- Monitoring - learning to monitor anxiety including what triggers it
- Challenging irrational, worrisome thoughts by replacing them with a more balanced way of thinking - often a person will need help with this and he/she may need to see a trained professional like a counsellor or psychologist
- Making positive lifestyle changes - for example, regular exercise, improving diet
- Learning and practice relaxation techniques - for example, controlled breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga
- Reducing alcohol and other drugs
If your anxiety is getting in the way of your life it may help to seek professional support. There are many services and individuals who can help you to develop ways of coping with anxiety, for example:
- Kids Helpline
- School counsellors
- Doctor or psychiatrist
- Worry Wise Kids
- Help Guide - How to Stop Worrying
- Anxiety Centre - Anxiety information and resources
- KidsHealth - Your mind
Published: 1 March 2010