Anxiety disorders are when anxious feelings do not go away. They are very common and affect one in every four Australians at some point in their lifetime.
Left untreated an anxiety disorder could disrupt your ability to function. It can affect your self-awareness, ability to maintain healthy and thriving relationships, work, and could put you at an increased risk of developing associated physical health issues.
Remember anxiety is treatable and effective treatments are available. Seeking support early is the key.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is when a person has excessive and uncontrollable worry about a range of ordinary situations, such as their health, work or finances.
Social anxiety occurs when people avoid social or performance situations because they feel an overwhelming fear of rejection or embarrassment.
Specific phobias relate to the fear of a particular object or situation. People usually will go to all lengths to avoid exposure to the object or situation. The person’s level of panic and fear, or even terror, is out of proportion to the actual threat. Triggers include flying on a plane, spiders, snakes, and heights.
Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD)
OCD includes unwanted and intrusive thoughts that are recurring and result in carrying out certain repetitive behaviours or rituals. The person is often aware of these behaviours and rituals, has a sense of shame and embarrassment and may go to great lengths to hide these compulsions from others. They are at risk of social isolation and are often afraid of seeking support for their disorder.
A panic attack that occurs once or twice in your life is not an uncommon or unexpected event and does not constitute a panic disorder. A panic disorder is when panic attacks are recurrent — several times a year up to several times a day.
When having a panic attack you experience sudden and overwhelming physical and emotional symptoms. The attack usually peaks within 10 minutes and usually lasts for up to 90 minutes. The attack causes tiredness and often exhaustion.
The physical and psychological symptoms often include:
- increased heart rate
- chest tightening or experiencing chest pain
- difficulty breathing, with an increased respiratory rate (hyperventilation)
- feeling choked
- excessive perspiration
- dizziness, feeling ‘light headed’ or faint (vasovagal)
- belief that you are dying, and
- feeling ‘out of control’ and that you are ‘going mad’.
Characteristics of panic disorder
- recurring panic attacks that are disabling
- constant fear that another panic attack will occur
- worrying for at least a month after a panic attack that you will have another
- significant changes in behaviours that relate to the panic attack. For example, avoiding activities such as exercise because it increases the heart rate, and
- worrying about the implications and consequences of panic attacks. For example, ongoing fears of a physical health diagnosis, which may result in repeated requests for medical investigations, despite reassurance that no abnormalities are identified in these investigations.
Treatments are directed towards the type of anxiety disorder experienced. Some general strategies that may help you include:
- preparing yourself before going into situations that may make you anxious
- if you are feeling overwhelmed, taking a break to regroup somewhere quiet
- using mindfulness techniques
- recognising and challenging negative thinking or excessive worry
- working on your problem-solving strategies so you are prepared for difficult situations, and
- setting and working towards achievable goals.
Why not read some of our other articles that relate to looking after your mental health:
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