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Anxiety explained

Find out more about anxiety - including the causes, the signs and symptoms and treatment options.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. In fact, the latest Medibank Better Health Index–Australia’s most up-to-date and comprehensive quarterly health survey–reveals that the condition now affects 18.7% of Aussies1. And according to beyondblue, one in four people on average will experience anxiety at some stage in their life. Here we explain more about anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Everybody experiences stress and feels anxious from time to time. Both can play an important role in helping us prepare for challenges, like exams or big work presentations, and generally last for a short time. However, feeling stressed and anxious can become problematic, and have a debilitating impact on our lives. So how do you recognise when anxiety is a problem?

According to Medibank mental health expert Colman O’Driscoll, feelings of anxiousness or stress will generally resolve when the situation changes, like when the exam finishes or a deadline is met. But if those anxious feelings do not pass, happen without reason, or are very difficult to control — this can be anxiety.

“Anxiety can be a serious problem, and left untreated it can really impact on a person’s life, effecting work, study, our relationships with family and friends as well as our physical health,” says Mr O’Driscoll.

“We all deal with feeling anxious differently, but it’s important to be aware of the signs of anxiety and seek help. While anxiety is the most common mental health problem it is also very treatable.”

Types of anxiety

There are different types of anxiety. According to beyondblue, many people with anxiety experience symptoms of more than one type of anxiety disorder, and may experience depression as well. Common types of anxiety include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). Feeling anxious on most days, worrying about lots of different things, for a period of six months or more.
  • Social phobia. Having an intense fear of being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated, even in everyday situations.
  • Specific phobias. Feeling very fearful about a particular object or situation and going to great lengths to avoid it.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Having ongoing unwanted/intrusive thoughts and fears that cause anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Brought on by a traumatic event, it can result in difficulty relaxing, upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event, and avoidance of anything related to the event.
  • Panic disorder. Having panic attacks, which are intense, overwhelming and often uncontrollable feelings of anxiety combined with a range of physical symptoms.

What causes anxiety?

A combination of factors can contribute to anxiety, from ongoing family or relationship problems, to work or health-related issues.  Anxiety can also develop with life-changing events, such as having a child, or major emotional shock or trauma. Given it’s often brought on by a combination of things, it can be hard to pinpoint an exact cause of anxiety.

 Watch Medibank’s Rachel Bowes explain what causes anxiety below. 

Signs of anxiety

 According to Colman O’Driscoll, signs of anxiety can include:

  • Physical symptoms like heart palpitations, tightness in your chest, panic attacks or being restless
  • Psychological symptoms like feeling worried most of the time, being unable to think about other things, having a feeling of dread or fear; you may also notice that you start avoiding situations – the kind of situations that make you feel more anxious.

beyondblue have created this simple checklist to measure whether you may have been affected by depression and anxiety during the past four weeks.

Treatment for anxiety

If you think you may be experiencing anxiety, the good news is there are lots of effective treatments available. And the sooner you get help, the more likely you are to recover.

A useful first can be to speak to you GP –they will be able to help diagnose the problem and provide you with the right treatment. You might find it difficult to talk about your condition, but try to remember how common anxiety is and that there is no shame in asking for help.

If you or someone you know is experiencing anxiety or depression, there’s 24/7 support out there. For urgent support, reach out to the beyondblue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14, or make an appointment with your GP.

1 Medibank Better Health Index data collected by Roy Morgan Research, from October 2007 to September 2016

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