Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal human emotion. However, some people find themselves worrying or feeling anxious so often that it interferes with their day to day life. Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting approximately 15% of the population.

Anxiety disorders range from generalised anxiety disorder through to panic attacks, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although it may sometimes feel like anxiety controls us, there are things you can do and skills you can learn to overcome anxiety.

Key points

  1. Learn about anxiety and anxiety disorders to help you make sense of how you feel.
  2. Break problems into simple goals and small steps.
  3. Learn how to think constructively and positively.
  4. Engage in techniques to help you relax.
  5. Spend time with people who can support you and help you to handle negative emotions and thoughts.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety is a normal human emotion and most of us experience some degree of anxiety due to a stressful event or misfortune. However, some people find themselves worrying or feeling anxious so often, that it interferes with their day to day life and is formally recognised as one of the anxiety disorders.

Anxiety disorders are very common, affecting approximately 15% of the population. The categories of anxiety disorders includes:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder.
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition.
  • Panic attack.
  • Panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia).
  • Phobia disorders:
    • specific phobias– spiders, heights, flying, confined spaces, etc
    • agoraphobia – fear of open spaces
    • social phobia– also known as social anxiety disorder.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Acute stress disorder.

You can take a test to assess your anxiety (GAD 7) (Also available in multiple languages)

Symptoms

Generalised anxiety disorder is the most common type of anxiety disorder. This is when people are extremely worried about things or overwhelmed with anxiety and fear – even when there is little or no reason to worry about them

Generalised anxiety disorder presents with a range of psychological and physical symptoms such as:

  • restlessness
  • a sense of dread
  • feeling constantly "on edge" or irritable
  • difficulty concentrating
  • impatience
  • being easily distracted
  • dizziness
  • irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • dry mouth or excessive sweating
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea and or stomach ache
  • headache
  • poor sleep
  • painful or missed periods and many more.

Symptoms can come on gradually or build up quickly. As anxiety increases, it can lead to changes in your behaviour. You may find yourself withdrawing from social contact and not wanting to see your family and friends to avoid feelings of worry and dread.

People can also find themselves needing more 'sick' days and lacking self-esteem. With generalised anxiety disorder, it can be hard to know what the cause is or why certain things trigger you to worry.

Treatments 

Generalised anxiety disorder can be treated. There are a range of treatments available to you. The first step is to talk with your GP who will discuss these with you and together you can decide which is best for you. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist. Aside from the self-help therapies discussed below, you can also try a talking therapy and/or medication, which your health professional will tell you about. 

Self care

The choices we make every day of how we live, eat, work, relax and react are very important to reducing anxiety in our lives. The following are some of the things you can do to take control and reduce anxiety building. 

Exercise

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming or running, is an excellent antidote to reduce stress and tension. Our bodies are designed to move, not sit most of the day and being physically active for 30 minutes a day or more is one of the best things you can do for improving mental and physical health. It improves mood, energy levels, our immune system, reduces risk of diabetes, heart disease and many more besides. It also encourages your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can improve your mood and wellbeing.

Smoking & alcohol

Smoking and alcohol have been shown to make feelings of anxiety worse. Aim to reduce your drinking to a maximum of 1 or 2 drinks per day. If you smoke, stop! Talk with your doctor/nurse or ring QuitLine for advice, support and nicotine replacement therapy.

Relaxation

Relaxing also helps. Find ways to learn relaxation and breathing exercises or try yoga, pilates or tai chi. 

Diet

Check what you are eating. Too much caffeine, sugar or fast food can act like dirty oil and upset your system. Caffeine and energy drinks can disrupt sleep, speed up your heartbeat and increase anxiety. Try eating regular meals, a healthy breakfast, more fruit and vegetables and less processed foods.

Self-help programmes

There are many great online courses and programmes that you can do online that can help you with your anxiety such as: 

  • The Journal free personalised online programme via the National Depression website. Includes clips from Sir John Kirwan (JK)
  • Beating the Blues® Online, free cognitive behavioural therapy via referral from your GP
  • This Way Up range of self-help online or supervised courses from University of New South Wales.

     

Mindfulness - Computer-assisted learning for the mind (CALM) 

Health appsOnline resource was created and managed by Dr Antonio Fernando, University of Auckland. The website has a range of tools, audios and resources to help people cope with stress and managing life.

Anxiety & mental wellbeing apps

Likewise, there are some excellent apps you can download on your phone or tablet that can help you develop skills to reduce anxiety and improve your mental wellbeing. 

Build a support network

Build your support network – a few people you can go to when things are tough. There are also a range of support organisations. Some offer face-to-face meetings where you can talk about your difficulties and problems with other people. Many provide support and guidance over the phone or by email.

  • Ask your GP about local support groups for anxiety in your area or look up online through links below.

Understand anxiety

There are hundreds of great books, workbooks, videos, online programmes and anxiety apps to help you understand anxiety and learn practical tips and skills for taking control of your thoughts, feelings and reactions. Most are based on cognitive behaviour therapy, an evidence-based approach previously limited to one-on-one therapy with a psychologist.

Discover new skills & deal with specific stresses

Learn more

Anxiety Mental Health Foundation of NZ
CALM Website University of Auckland
A guide to what works for anxiety disorders beyondblue
Health Translations Directory State Govt Victoria, Australia
Generalised anxiety disorder in Adults NHS Choices, UK

Credits: Health Navigator Team. Reviewed By: Editorial team