What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural mechanism of the body which helps us deal with stress in our lives. It prepares the body in cases where there is fear or apprehension and helps us get around safely in the world by heightening our senses and making us more alert and motivated. This feeling will usually come and go, but when there are extended periods of anxiety that cause problems for living a day-to-day life, that could indicate there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental health issues in Australia but can be treated effectively. Please seek medical advice in this situation.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
As mentioned above, anxiety and anxiety disorders are the body’s way of preparing you for what is to come. The following is a list of common symptoms usually associated with anxiety:
Increased heart rate
Increased rate of breathing
Feeling faint or dizzy
Feeling tense, especially around the neck and shoulders area
Restlessness and trouble concentrating
An upset feeling in the stomach
Sleep disturbances or not being able to get to sleep
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety can be caused by different stressors in a person’s life and can also have a genetic component too. It is usually a combination of several stressors that can then lead on to anxiety or anxiety disorders.
Examples of stressors could include, but are not limited to:
A traumatic event
In addition, there are theories concerning areas of the brain which control the fear that triggers anxiety. This is still an area of ongoing research, so not much is known about the specifics of brain chemistry and its link to anxiety disorders.
For the assessment and diagnosis of anxiety disorders, a medical practitioner will need to be consulted and will usually require the patient to take a thorough diagnostic questionnaire – the more detailed the answers given, the more accurate an assessment that can be made. The questionnaire being used can also help the medical practitioner diagnose any other mental health issues such as depression.
Management and treatment of anxiety
Mild anxiety is usually able to be managed with a few lifestyle changes, while more severe and debilitating anxiety disorders will require specialised therapies as well as the possibility of medication.
Breathing and relaxation techniques
Controlling your breathing by inhaling and exhaling deeply can help the body relax which allows you to be able to better deal with the cause of the anxiety. This can be done in the form of yoga or meditation. Attempt to do this for 3-5 minutes a day, 2-3 times a day or whenever you feel stressed.
Sleeping well, eating well, spending time with friends and family, doing things you like – all of these help to promote a healthier state of mind and encourage you to looking after yourself.
Any form of physical activity will allow the brain to release a chemical called serotonin which is also known as the “feel-good” chemical. Going for a 10-minute walk, or doing some gardening or housework, can make you feel better and less tired.
Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake
Caffeine can increase a person’s heart rate and affect sleep, so it’s best to reduce and limit the intake of caffeine-containing products.
Alcohol in theory can act as an anti-anxiety agent, but it also changes the levels of serotonin in the brain chemistry which can lead to a worsening of the anxiety, and may make you feel worse after its effects have worn off.
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)
This involves changing the way a person views a problem and by introducing anxiety triggers slowly and safely, it can be a way to help challenge a person and encourages the person to learn how to cope with those triggers.
There are a range of different medications used to treat anxiety, but most fall in the categories of antidepressants or anti-anxiolytics (such as benzodiazepines). These medications are usually used in conjunction with the non-medication treatments above to achieve best outcomes. Your doctor and our pharmacists will be able to provide you with more information regarding what medication is prescribed and the best ways to approach your medication therapy.
When to seek help
Anxiety can range from a mild inconvenience to a disability which can impact daily life and activities. If you experience situations where you feel that you are unable to deal with it, please seek help from friends, family or your doctor.
Alternatively, BeyondBlue (Phone: 1300 22 4636) is a service which is readily available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – with an online chat service also available on their website.