What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal response to a distressing event or perceived threat and most people experience some form of anxiety in their lifetime. Anxiety refers to the thoughts and bodily reactions a person has when they are presented with an event or situation that they feel they cannot manage or undertake successfully. It is often described as an uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability involving worry or fear and is commonly experienced in high pressure situations, for example, prior to a speech or presentation, while undertaking an exam, or following an accident.

Signs and symptoms

Although the experience of anxiety will vary from person to person, a common feature for most individuals is a feeling of stress or worry. In addition to worry or negative thinking, symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Avoidance behaviour
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Feeling lightheaded or faint
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Upset stomach or nausea
  • Sweating

What are the risks for anxiety?

There is no single known cause of high anxiety. Rather, there are a number of risk factors or triggers that may contribute to the development of anxious thoughts, behaviours and physical symptoms which include:

  • Biological factors such as genetic predispositions, poor physical health
  • Psychological factors such as low self-esteem, certain personality traits linked to anxious ways of interpreting events, unhelpful coping strategies (e.g., avoidance)
  • Social-environmental factors such as marriage breakdowns, work or school deadlines, and financial hardship can also act as a trigger for anxiety.

Anxiety Disorders

While anxiety is considered a natural reaction to a stressful situation, for some individuals anxious thoughts, feelings, or physical symptoms can become severe, and cause significant distress or interfere with their ability to cope with normal daily demands. If this occurs frequently or persists over a long period of time, the individual may at risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental disorders diagnosed in Australia and can take a number of different forms such as the following:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobia
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Treatment for Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders?

Psychologists employ Evidence-based psychological approaches and strategies. In particular Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) has been found to be the most effective treatment for anxiety disorders.