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What is Anxiety?

Anxiety affects one quarter of Australians at some stage in their lives.

Its mental and physical symptoms can make day-to-day life extremely stressful. The good news is there are a variety of treatments available and, the condition can often be easily managed.

Feeling anxious can be a normal emotional response to stressful situations. However, anxiety as an illness relates to a feeling of constant stress in your everyday life. This is a very serious condition that can impact every aspect of your life – health, family, work and relationships.

A person who is suffering anxiety may be continually occupied with stressful thoughts relating to a single incident or combination of the following factors: general anxiety about life; panic attacks; fear of social situations; specific phobias, like crowds or open spaces; obsessive compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder.

People with an anxiety disorder will often expect a negative outcome from a situation and can also experience feeling out of control. More often than not, the anxiety they’re experiencing is disproportionate to the problem at hand.

There are physical effects from anxiety as well, such as sleeplessness, irritability, tight muscles, tiredness and lack of concentration.

Sadly, anxiety disorders are extremely common and, according to Better Health, approximately 25 per cent of Australians have suffered some form of anxiety during their lifetime. It can occur from the late teen years onwards – and, if left untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to depression. Fortunately, there are a range of treatments available.

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety can slowly develop over time. Given that many of us lead busy lives, it can be hard to identify when you might need to seek help. As soon as you feel that anxiety is getting in the way of daily life, visit your GP for help.

The symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Panic attacks – this is a physical reaction to anxiety that may include shortness of breath, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, throat tightness or nausea
  • Persistent or unrealistic worries over a situation
  • Compulsions which can’t be controlled, for example, you can’t leave the house without checking multiple times the oven is turned off
  • Extreme anxiety over social situations
  • Irrational fear over everyday objects and situations, for example, open spaces

Physical reactions to anxiety can be a very scary and unpleasant experience. Unfortunately, panic attacks are often brought on by thinking about the situation you are anxious about, which in turn can further fuel the anxiety as you take extra measures to avoid the stressful situation.

If you experience any of the symptoms above, visit your doctor. They will discuss a range of treatment options that you can pursue.

Causes and treatment of anxiety

Anxiety is caused by a combination of personality traits and life events. Some contributors can include:

  • Life experiences such as family or relationship problems, work stress or bullying
  • Personality traits such as shyness, low self-esteem or perfectionism
  • If other family members also suffer anxiety
  • Chronic physical illness

The good news is that there are many avenues of treatment for anxiety – from basic meditation and lifestyle changes, to treatments with psychologists, to medication. There are also many support networks and organisations out there that provide help, sometimes free of charge.

The most basic form of treatment for anxiety is breathing techniques and meditation. These can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. Another effective treatment is counselling with a psychologist, along with cognitive behavioural therapy whereby you change the patterns of behaviour and thinking that can trigger anxiety. Medications can also be prescribed to treat anxiety.

Finding the right combination of treatments will pave the way to management, and commonly, a full recovery from anxiety.

Further information and sources


This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of anxiety. For more information, see Better Health Channel.

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