Managing Anxiety

Written by  Dr Malini Singh, Psychologist, Change for Life

Dr Angraj Khillan, Consultant Paediatrician Western Specialist Care Centre

Everyone worries or feels nervous from time to time.  Anxiety is a normal human reaction to worrying situations. But for some people, those fears and worries are not temporary. Their anxiety persists, and can even get worse over time.  These people may have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can severely affect your ability to function at work, school, and in social situations. Anxiety can also interfere with your relationships with family members and friends. Fortunately, though, there are effective treatments for anxiety.  Though medications have a role in treating anxiety disorders, research shows behavioural treatments are highly effective in treating most  anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are common in both adults and children.  About 6.9%  of young Australians age 7 to 17 will experience anxiety disorder.

There are several major types of anxiety disorders.  One is Generalized anxiety disorder that is involves constant worry or anxious feelings. People with this disorder worry about a lot of things, such as health problems or finances, and may have a general sense that something bad is going to happen. Symptoms include restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems and generally feeling on edge.  Panic disorder is marked by constantly occurring panic attacks that include symptoms such as sweating, trembling, shortness of breath or a feeling of choking, a pounding heart or rapid heart rate, and feelings of dread. Such attacks often happen suddenly, without warning. People who experience panic attacks often become fearful about when the next episode will occur, which can cause them to change or restrict their normal activities.  Phobias are intense fears about certain objects (spiders or snakes, for instance) or situations (such as flying in airplanes) that are distressing and can affect your daily life.  Social anxiety disorder also called social phobia is when one is fearful of social situations in which they might feel embarrassed or judged.  People typically feel nervous spending time in social settings, feel self-conscious in front of others, and worry about being rejected by or offending others. Other common symptoms include having a hard time making friends, avoiding social situations, worrying for days before a social event and feeling shaky, sweaty or nauseous when spending time in a social setting.  Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by persistent, uncontrollable feelings and thoughts (obsessions) and routines or rituals (compulsions). Some common examples include compulsive hand washing in response to a fear of germs, or repeatedly checking work for errors.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can develop after a severe physical or emotional trauma such as a natural disaster, serious accident or crime. Symptoms include flashbacks of the trauma, nightmares and frightening thoughts that interfere with a person’s everyday routine for months or years after the traumatic experience.

Though many types of anxiety disorders exist, research suggests that most are driven by similar underlying causes. People with anxiety disorders tend to become easily overwhelmed by their emotions, and they tend to have particularly negative reactions to unpleasant feelings and situations.  Avoiding these negative reactions by avoiding situations or experiences that make us anxious is the general way most people cope with anxiety.  Unfortunately, avoidance can backfire and actually feed the anxiety.  Psychologists are trained in diagnosing anxiety disorders and teaching patients healthier, more effective ways to cope.  Psychotherapy is highly effective at treating anxiety disorders by helping patients learn to identify and manage the factors that contribute to their anxiety.

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