Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in Australia?
It is so common that almost a third of Australians will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2023) and nearly everybody experiences worry and angst from time to time. I’m sure most of us, if not all, can relate to that awful pit in your stomach when you feel so tense that the idea of relaxing seems impossible.
It is important to know that you are not alone in what you are experiencing. While worry and anxiety may seem like something that should be avoided at all costs, having a bit of it is actually healthy. Anxiety is a natural response to stress and danger. It’s the body’s way of preparing for a “fight or flight” situation. Worry helps us to stay motivated; it can help us with getting to work on time or preparing for a test. However, when anxiety becomes overwhelming and doesn’t go away, is out of proportion to the situation, and disrupts daily life, it is no longer a healthy expression of stress but rather troublesome and may be classified as an Anxiety Disorder. Interestingly, there are actually quite a few anxiety disorders (e.g., separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder and specific phobias). Most people however use the term anxiety to refer to generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can make you feel like your mind is racing and that there is nothing you can do to stop it. Excessive thoughts of the past or future may dominate your mind and it can be hard to think about anything else. Soon the mental exhaustion of it all often turns physical, where you may experience heart palpitations, problems sleeping, a churning stomach, trembling, and dizziness. Anxiety impedes your ability to concentrate, be productive and enjoy life. It holds you back from making the most out of each day and blocks healthy relationships.
For some, GAD include dreaded panic attacks. Sudden and intense episodes of fear, discomfort and dread takes over when experiencing a panic attack. Your chest becomes tight, and your heart begins to race so fast it may seem like you’re having a heart attack. These daunting episodes are often accompanied by chills, sweating, shaking, dizziness, and breathlessness. It is no surprise that people with anxiety often avoid situations that may trigger their anxiousness. While giving into anxiety may reduce discomfort in the moment, it doesn’t help in the long run as you begin to avoid everyday challenges at work, school and in your social life.
The good news is that anxiety is very treatable.
One of my greatest pleasures in life is to watch people who were overwhelmed with anxiety start to recover and dive back into a happy, fulfilling life.
What causes anxiety?
Understanding the roots of your anxiety can be incredibly useful in overcoming it, and this will differ from person to person. While, traumatic life experiences, stress, loss, or change can trigger anxiety, there are also a number of other factors that may contribute. Genetics play a big role in anxiety disorders, and a family history of anxiety may increase your susceptibility (Hettema et al., 2005). Imbalances in brain chemistry can also play a part in the development and continuation of anxiety issues, along with various other factors that may have an impact such as medical conditions, substance use, and personality traits. It is important to note that your anxiety is NOT your fault. It is a combination of many factors coming together and exacerbating your thoughts and emotions.
Just knowing that your fears and feelings are, in part, intensified by these other factors, can be a useful tool in managing your anxiety and can help to overcome your overwhelming emotions and your body’s response to them.
What is the treatment for anxiety?
When it comes to the treating anxiety disorders, there are a few psychotherapies that stand out as the most effective. Pharmacology treatments are often used in conjunction with psychological therapy. The most supported psychotherapies include:
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT),
- Exposure therapy,
- Mindfulness and Mindfulness-based Cognitive (MCBT), and
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for anxiety focuses on developing distinct goals to address the anxiety. The therapist may use specific techniques to manage and reduce alarm or anxious feelings; challenge unfounded and faulty beliefs and build suitable and adaptive coping mechanisms.
Exposure therapy, most commonly thought of in relation to specific phobias, is an effective therapy not only for phobias but for anxiety disorders more generally too. It involves the gradual exposure to an anxiety-inducing situation, image or thought, in a systematic manner, until the individual can recognise and manage their anxiety without avoidance of the subject. This is often done as a step-by-step process with the exposure gradually increasing in intensity, as beliefs about the subject matter become more rational.
Mindfulness incorporates acceptance and awareness of thoughts and emotions and engages in mindfulness-based practices such as relaxation and breathing exercises to help identify and regulate emotions. Mindful-based CBT applies these principles to the traditional techniques use in CBT.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) addresses anxiety by helping to create separation between the sense of self and anxious thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It emphasises observation and acceptance of anxiety-inducing thoughts as well as value focused goal setting.
As you can see there are a number of options available to assist in the treatment of anxiety disorders and these are just the most commonly adopted practices. Anxiety can be treated in numerous ways using a combination of different therapies to ensure the best outcome for you.
If you are experiencing symptoms and think you may have anxiety, you can take our Anxiety Quiz here. Or if you would like to get help with your symptoms, whether that be Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), another anxiety disorder, or if you are simply going through a stressful time and want some help addressing it, book an appointment with one of our lovely team here!
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2023). National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/latest-release.
Hettema, J. M., Prescott, C. A., Myers, J. M., Neale, M. C., & Kendler, K. S. (2005). The Structure of Genetic and Environmental Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders in Men and Women. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(2), 182–189. https://doi.org/10.1001/archpsyc.62.2.182