Most people will feel anxious occasionally, but if you constantly struggle with anxiety issues, you will know just how debilitating it can be.
It’s common for people to feel anxious about certain things – eg job interviews, exams, or performing. However, people with an anxiety disorder experience these uncomfortable feelings in situations that don’t necessarily merit the fear, and it is an ongoing problem.
Anxiety issues are further compounded if you find yourself ‘overthinking’ things, and ‘catastrophising’. Catastrophising is when you constantly think the worst, believe a situation is far worse than it actually is, create negative outcomes in your mind, and worry about all of these. It can cripple you mentally, and limit your lifestyle.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the way the body responds to fear, and experiencing issues with anxiety getting out of control is very common. It has been reported that over any given year, more than two million Australians will experience anxiety issues.
If all the catastophising and over thinking and worrying severely impacts your life and wellbeing, it’s likely that your issues have developed into an anxiety disorder.
However just because anxiety issues are common, it is still not pleasant for the sufferer. In addition to feeling miserable, and often unable to focus on their tasks, people with anxiety issues find it can also impact on their health, eg abdominal concerns, headaches, aches and pains, excessive tiredness and lack of motivation.
Although this all sounds gloomy, there is a bright side to having anxiety issues – the sooner you seek help, the more likely you are to recover.
What leads to Anxiety Issues?
Anxiety issues usually cannot be contributed to any one cause, but rather to a combination of things like certain personality factors, stress or trauma. Over time, they can become worse due to negative and unhelpful thinking patterns.
If you are the sort of person who may be described as a perfectionist, shy, easily flustered, lacking in confidence and self-esteem, a bit of a control freak – then you are more likely to suffer from anxiety issues.
Stress and trauma – for example, workplace stress or job change, financial concerns, loss of employment, moving house, relationship conflict or breakdowns, the death of a loved one, verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse, or any kind of traumatic event – can also lead to problems with anxiety.
There are a number of types of anxiety disorders, including:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder: This type of anxiety occurs where a person worries about pretty much anything and everything – they even worry about worrying! The sufferer can’t seem to control how much the mind worries and overthinks, and this inhibits their quality of life and impacts on their relationships.
Generalised anxiety disorder may cause physical problems such as being unable to relax, tiredness and even exhaustion, poor focus, aches and pains anywhere and everywhere, irritability and poor sleep.
Social Anxiety Disorder: This type of anxiety arises in social situations where a person feels very self-conscious. Individuals with social anxiety tend to be fearful that people are staring at them and judging them negatively. They are usually unable to go to strange places alone where there are new people, without suffering an anxiety attack.
Panic Disorder: It is reported that around 40% of Australians have a panic attack at some point during their life.
However, a panic disorder occurs when a person suffers repeated and ongoing panic attacks. An attack comes on very quickly and unexpectedly, with the sufferer experiencing an intense rush of fear or anxiety that for the duration of the attack is debilitating. While it may last a few minutes, the physical and emotional effects can continue for a longer period.
Physically, sufferers may experience symptoms as feeling they can’t breathe, chest pains, rapid heartbeat and palpitations, shakiness, sweating, increased body temperature, nausea, dizziness, and tingling in their extremities. Often the person is not aware that such an attack is caused by anxiety; some may even think they are having a heart attack. As their anxiety grows, the number of attacks also increase.
This can lead to a vicious cycle: the individual may worry about having a panic attack, perhaps in places where they have had a panic attack before (eg in crowds, an elevator, or any place where they fear they can’t escape from and won’t get help). They may attend certain fearful places only in the company of a well-known person they trust. Even then, the individual’s build-up of fear of a venue may initiate an attack even before they leave home, regardless of with whom they are attending. Consequently they avoid those fearful places, causing the anxiety to remain unresolved, and limiting their lifestyles.
Specific Phobia: Some people also suffer specific phobias such as an intense fear of birds, chickens, dogs, spiders or any other variety of animal or thing.
Treating Anxiety Issues
There are several types of effective psychological treatments that can be useful for reducing and managing anxiety; most focus on helping you to change your thinking patterns and reduce irrational thoughts.
The most well known of these is CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This approach teaches sufferers to become aware of their thoughts, and to consciously think more realistically. If a person actively avoids situations or places that cause anxiety, CBT can help with facing their fears and to approach these situations more rationally and calmly.
CBT can also help sufferers to recognise the difference between productive and unproductive worries, and how to let go of those negative and destructive thoughts.
People can also be helped by their therapists using approaches such as relaxation, visualisation and breathing techniques, particularly muscle relaxation, to control anxiety and the physical symptoms of tension.
Each person is different, and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing an anxiety condition. It’s important to remember that while you can’t always identify the cause of anxiety or change difficult circumstances, there are great benefits to learning to recognise the signs and symptoms, and seeking advice and support.
If you are struggling with anxiety, have a chat to your GP and if required, obtain a referral to a psychologist. If location allows, I would be happy to help you.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment with psychologist and hypnotherapist Dr Jan Philamon, try Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129, or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.