Occasional feelings of stress and worry are a familiar part of everyone's life, especially when they can be attributed to specific events or issues, and pass once the issue is resolved. Anxiety is a mental health condition where the feelings of stress or worry don't go away, feel uncontrollable, affect a person's day to day life or don't seem to have a specific cause. It can be a serious condition and can make it hard to cope with daily tasks.
Anxiety can present in lots of different ways, but some common forms are:
Generalised anxiety disorder - A person has continual feelings of anxiety for a period of six months or more.
Phobia - A phobia is an intense fear of something that a person will try to avoid having to interact with, sometimes impacting on their ability to live a safe or happy life.
Panic disorder - A panic disorder is when a person is experiencing recurring panic attacks for longer than a month. A panic attack is an overwhelming feeling of anxiety that develops into an uncontrollable reaction that may include shortness of breath, increased heart rate, chest pain, dizziness and sweating.
Two other disorders that are closely linked with anxiety are Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). PTSD can develop after a person has experienced a traumatic event. Symptoms can include difficulty relaxing, upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event, and avoidance of anything related to the event. OCD is when a person has persistent intrusive thoughts that they recognise are untrue and unhelpful but cause them to carry out certain behaviours or rituals to relieve or satisfy the thoughts.
Symptoms of anxiety can be hard to identify, as we are all familiar with feeling stressed at certain points in our lives. Symptoms also present differently in different people.
Some common symptoms include:
Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy
Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophising, or obsessive thinking
Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make the person feel anxious, impacting on study, work or social life.
List of symptoms by beyondblue.
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia
One in four people will experience anxiety at some stage in their life
40 per cent of the population will experience a panic attack
Causes and treatment
There is no one cause of anxiety. Most often, it is caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and personality factors. People who have family members with anxiety are more likely to experience it themselves, however having a family member with anxiety doesn't mean a person will also experience it. People who tend to have certain personality traits, like perfectionism, low self esteem or timidity are also more likely to have anxiety. Other physical and mental health conditions can often lead to anxiety, such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Ongoing stress or traumatic past events can also trigger anxiety and intensify its symptoms. It's important to remember that everyone is different and can develop anxiety for many different reasons.
If a person is experiencing anxiety, they should visit their GP to discuss diagnosis and treatment. Treatment usually involves talk therapy or counselling to assist in the management of symptoms, as well as reducing the intensity or frequency of the symptoms. In some cases, medication such as anti-depressants may also be prescribed to help manage symptoms.
How the Florey is making a difference
Our scientists are working with teenagers to uncover what makes them more prone to anxiety than adults. We are also testing compounds in preclinical models to find out whether they could make cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety more effective.
Support and information
While The Florey researches anxiety, we do not offer crisis support. If you require immediate support please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or for more information, visit beyondblue. If your life is in immediate danger call 000.
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