What the hang heck exactly is anxiety? Everyone feels stressed or anxious at different points in their lives. That is perfectly normal. Sometimes stress is good, it gives us the kick in the bum necessary to get shizz done. When anxiety stops you from participating in everyday life and makes you feel so overwhelmed it stops you from doing things, then it becomes a problem. Anxiety often causes extremely uncomfortable physical symptoms.
Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is a response to a real or perceived immediate threat, anxiety is the expectation of a future threat.
There are several different types of this illness, generalised anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, acute stress disorder and panic disorder. As with depression, we will take our time and go through each of them separately. But today is about general anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
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.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder can come on gradually or quickly and can begin at any time in your life, the risk is highest between childhood and middle age though. it can be mild or severe, ranging from those that can function in daily life to those that have difficulty managing even simple tasks.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can build gradually or come on very quickly. Changes in behaviour can increase as anxiety increases. Some people withdraw from their friends and family and avoid participating in things to avoid feelings of worry and stress. Lack of self-esteem is common with anxiety disorders and sometimes, people that live with anxiety need more days off work due to their symptoms.
As with most things, signs and symptoms vary from person to person. One person may experience anxiety in a whole different way from another person. But the most commons signs and symptoms are below
- Excessive worry even when there is no cause to and have constant worries that often snowball
- Irrational fears
- Irritable and impatient
- Unable to relax
- Have difficulty concentrating
- Sense of dread and expecting the worst
- Feeling constantly on edge
- Self-conscious even around close friends and family
- Feel sick – sore stomach, nausea and headaches are common
- Heartbeat racing
- Short of breath
- ‘Butterflies’ in the stomach
- Feel tired all the time
- Need to pee a lot or have painful or missed periods
- Find it difficult to get to sleep
- Go off your food or overeat
- Get very jumpy
- Get sweaty hands
- Feel hot and cold
- Dry mouth
- Sweating excessively
- Tight feeling in the chest or chest pains
- Muscle tension
- Lose your sense of humour
- Unable to decide what you want to do or make decisions
- Need to perform certain rituals to try and relieve the worries
- Restlessness, jumpiness or lacking the ability to relax
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on things
- Easily distracted
- Obsessive perfectionism including a constant need to check things are right or clean
- Avoidance of situations that cause anxiousness
- Need to know what’s going to happen in the future
What causes anxiety?
The causes of anxiety are unknown. There can be family or genetic links if other members of your close family live with anxiety, there is a greater chance you will too. Scientists have also discovered a wiring in some areas of the brain are affected by people living with anxiety disorders. Sometimes it can be hard to know what is the cause or why certain things trigger anxiety.
That clears that up then.
How to manage anxiety
Good news, anxiety can be treated or managed. There is a range of treatments available. Your GP will discuss these with you and will tailor your treatment plan to you. The most common treatment options are self-help treatment, medications and talking therapies.
Try these 23 top tips + tricks for controlling anxiety.
- Keeping up a regular exercise routine
- Relaxation including mindfulness, yoga and pilates
- Healthy eating plan
- Building a support network
- Understand anxiety – there are a range of books and resources available (linked at the bottom of the page)
- Discover new skills to deal with specific stresses, for example, managing money
- Online self-help programs (linked at the bottom of the page)
- Complementary therapies
There are a range of medications used to help treat anxiety, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are the most common ones. Your Doctor will prescribe a medication suitable for you. This can be a bit trial and error though as the effectiveness and how they are tolerated will differ from person to person.
Talking therapies can be very effective for treating anxiety. There are several types of talking therapies that are used and can help to understand your anxiety and help to make positive changes to your thinking, behaviour, feelings, relationships and emotional well-being.
Talking therapies used to treat anxiety include:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy
- Computerised CBT
- Interpersonal psychotherapy
- Problem-solving therapy
Which therapy is right for you will depend on the severity of your anxiety, symptoms, how you have responded to treatment in the past and how your anxiety affects your daily life.
Where to go for help
There are many places to go to for help. Some good ones are:
- Your GP
- A trusted friend or family member
- Your church
- Support groups, these can be found online or by talking to your GP
- Your local Iwi
- School counsellor
- Helplines (listed below)
If you want more information about anxiety, the Mental Health Foundation and Health Navigator have some excellent brochures available to download.
- Anxiety disorders – your guide published by The Royal Australian & NZ College of Psychiatrists. Find it here
- Anxiety and how to handle it published by the Mental Health Foundation. Find it here
- Anxiety disorders: A guide for families published by Werry Workforce Whāraurau. Find it here
- Living with anxiety: Understanding the role and impact of anxiety in our lives published by the Mental Health Foundation. Find it here
- A guide to what works for anxiety disorders published by Beyondblue, Australia. Find it here
Online self-help programmes
You can find anything online nowadays. Including online self-help programmes. A few of the following are recommended ones. Remember though, if you do decide to go down this route you need to be accountable and self-motivated which can sometimes be tricky.
- 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.
Helplines (NZ based)
- Youthline: Free, confidential and non-judgmental. Call 0800 37 66 33 or text 234
- Depression Helpline: Call 0800 111 757
- Lifeline: Nationwide 24-hour counselling service – call 0800 543 354
- What’s Up: Free counselling service for young people, operates Monday to Friday 1-10pm, and Saturday and Sunday 3-10pm – call 0800 WHATSUP (0800 942 8787). They also have a free online chat 5-10pm every day.
- Anxiety Line: 0800 ANXIETY (0800 2694 389) – provides education and support around anxiety
- The Low Down: text free 5626
You do not have to live with anxiety alone. There are many, many resources out there if you don’t feel like you can talk to someone in person there are other options available to you from helplines and websites. I will be sharing my story over the next few weeks as well. You probably know by now that I live with depression (read my story here), but often depression and anxiety go hand in hand.
You can share your story as well, you never know who you might touch or inspire. If you wish to remain anonymous that is perfectly ok. The more we share our real stories, the more awareness we can raise for mental health illnesses.
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