What is anxiety?

Published in Medicinewise Living

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If left untreated, your anxiety symptoms may start to take over your life and affect your relationships with family, friends and work mates. Image: Piotr Marcinski / shutterstock.com

Everyone feels worried or anxious sometimes, but if you often have uncontrollable worries about a lot of different issues, you could have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are now the most common mental health problem in Australia, affecting 14% of people.

Although anyone can develop an anxiety disorder, women are more at risk than men. In Australia, almost 1 in 5 women have an anxiety disorder, and about 1 in 10 men.

The most common types of anxiety disorders are post-traumatic stress disorder (6% of Australians), and social phobia (5%). Other types include generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Symptoms of anxiety disorder include feeling on edge, getting tired easily, feeling irritable, having tense muscles, and difficulty concentrating or sleeping.

Anxiety symptoms can also be common with particular illnesses (e.g. hyperthyroidism), and in that case you need to treat the underlying problem.

When should I seek help?

If you have a lot of worries that are out of proportion to the cause, a lot of the time, see your doctor or other health professional. Anxiety is a real condition that should be treated by a health professional.

Seek treatment sooner rather than later. If left untreated, your symptoms may start to take over your life and affect your relationships with family, friends and work mates.

Your GP is a good first port of call if you need help. They can talk to you about treatment options, and check whether you have an underlying health problem contributing to your anxiety.

What are the treatment options?

Psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), are very effective and are the first choice of treatment. Some people may also need medicines.

What is psychological therapy?

Psychological therapies, such as CBT, help you change the underlying thoughts causing your anxiety, and learn more-helpful behaviours.

Your GP may draw up a Mental Health Treatment Plan so you can get a Medicare rebate for psychological treatment. You can do psychological therapy one-on-one with a health professional, in groups or online.

Will I need to use medicines?

If you have more-severe anxiety and psychological therapy alone isn’t helping, an antidepressant combined with psychological therapy might help you.

What are some self-help strategies?

Self-help strategies can help you better manage your life and get better control of your symptoms.

  • Learn about anxiety and how to manage it.
  • Confide in trusted friends and family members.
  • Ask for help and support when you need it.
  • Learn breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.
  • Spend time relaxing and doing things you enjoy.
  • Learn good sleeping habits.
  • Stay active and eat well.
  • Don’t let work take over your life.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Cut out illegal drugs.

Will I be cured?

Anxiety symptoms may not disappear altogether after treatment, but they should be much less of a problem. Psychological therapy will help you manage anxious feelings if they do come back.

The benefits of psychological therapies for anxiety continue for at least 12 months after stopping therapy, and may continue as long as you apply the skills you have learned.

What are the possible complications?

People with anxiety disorders sometimes have other mental health issues, such as depression, or drug and alcohol problems. It is important to also deal with these to maximise your chances of getting well.

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