Learn about the signs, symptoms and causes of anxiety.
Feeling anxious can be an instinctive response – it’s what’s known as a ‘fight-or-flight’ response which helps us to detect and avoid danger. So if it’s human nature to feel tense or react nervously in situations where we feel threatened or under pressure – you might ask, “why is it so important to talk about anxiety?” It’s because there’s a big difference between a natural response, and having persistent or excessive feelings of stress, worry or dread – especially in the face of a situation that wouldn’t normally evoke an anxious response.
People who struggle with an anxiety disorder have an uncontrollable ‘fight-or-flight’ response which perceives threats at a heightened level – even when there are none – allowing one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. Anxiety is when those anxious feelings don’t seem to go away, and often there is no logical reason or cause behind them.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an umbrella term for several mental health disorders that cause persistent, uncontrollable, or irrational experiences of worry, stress, nervousness, fear or apprehension. These disorders affect how a person feels and behaves, resulting in self-criticism and feelings of inadequacy, and can even cause physical symptoms. Anxiety makes it difficult to cope with life’s everyday challenges, which is why it can impact a person’s professional and personal endeavours. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders, affecting about one in four Australians at some point in their life.
Types of Anxiety
An anxiety disorder can develop in a number of ways. A better understanding of anxiety and its different types, is a positive first step towards learning how to deal with anxiety.
Some common diagnoses include:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This is the most common anxiety disorder. It is a mental health condition when you have uncontrollable worry and anxiety that isn’t necessarily connected to recent stressful events, but it can be brought on by certain situations.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)
Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is when you are affected by a significant amount of fear of avoidance within social situations, causing considerable distress and impaired ability to function in parts of your daily life.
If you experience unexpected and disabling panic attacks, and are also preoccupied with the fear of a recurring attack, you may have a panic disorder. A panic attack may include a rapid heartbeat, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, numbness, or an overwhelming sense of fear.
This type of anxiety is defined as an extreme fear of a particular object, activity or situation which is out of proportion with the actual level of threat posed. People struggling with a phobia feel anxious when faced with a spider or snake, aircraft travel, germs, injections, or tall buildings, to name a few.
There are other conditions where anxiety is commonly present:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A person has ongoing unwanted/intrusive thoughts and fears that cause anxiety. Although the person may acknowledge these thoughts as silly, they often try to relieve their anxiety by carrying out certain behaviours or rituals. For example, a fear of germs and contamination can lead to constant hand washing.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
This condition can develop as a result of a person experiencing a traumatic event (e.g. war, assault, accident, disaster). Symptoms can include difficulty relaxing, upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event, and avoidance of anything related to the event. PTSD is diagnosed when a person has symptoms for at least a month.
Causes of Anxiety
An anxiety condition isn't developed or caused by a single factor but a combination of things. A number of other factors play a role, including personality factors, difficult life experiences and physical health.
Anxiety disorders are caused by many factors, such as:
Family history of mental health conditions
Ongoing stressful events including:
work stress or job change
change in living arrangements
pregnancy and giving birth
family and relationship problems
major emotional shock following a stressful or traumatic event
verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma
death or loss of a loved one
Signs and Symptoms
If you suffer from anxiety, your physical, behavioural and psychological characteristics may be very different to another person with anxiety. Signs and symptoms of anxiety will vary depending on the type of disorder, frequency of symptoms, severity of the disorder, and any pre-existing mental health disorders.