What is anxiety?

By Therapy Focus

Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress and is designed to keep you alive in dangerous situations. It is a normal part of life and something which everyone experiences at some point.

However, when people consistently experience long periods of anxiety, it can become a problem.

In this post, Therapy Focus Psychologist Rebecca Fitzpatrick explains anxiety in more detail.

Anxiety Disorders

People with Anxiety Disorders typically experience frequent, intense, excessive, and persistent worry about what might be considered everyday experiences. It often impacts the person’s quality of life, affecting social interactions, engagement in activities or even leaving the house.

Sometimes anxiety has an exact trigger; other times, it does not. Something can cause anxiety in one person, but not another.

When you have an anxiety disorder, you cannot ‘snap out of it’ or just ‘think differently’. It can even stop people from doing things that are important or enjoyable to them, such as going to school, going to work, or seeing friends.

But you CAN manage – and sometimes overcome – anxiety with the right supports and strategies.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety has several common characteristics.

Physical changes: increased heart rate, increased perspiration (sweating), shallow breathing, butterflies, or an uncomfortable feeling in the stomach, feeling sick/need to vomit, tingling of the skin, restless legs/trembling, difficulty speaking.

Thought changes: difficulties thinking and reasoning, increase in worry thoughts or a ‘blank’ mind.

Emotional changes: increased feelings of worry and fear. Possible anger, frustration, or feelings of despair. These can lead to emotional changes such as feeling helplessness and hopelessness.

Behaviour changes: ‘Fight or flight’; a reaction to support the body to keep itself safe. We may act like this when we feel anxious or threatened or seeking to avoid a trigger. Freeze mode; we may not be able to concentrate or unable to focus and take in information. Appease mode; when we agree with someone to avoid a situation.

A young man sits on the floor holding his knees. He has his hand on his cheek and looks a little bit overwhelmed.

Managing anxiety

When a person is under stress, their breathing pattern changes. Typically, an anxious person takes small, shallow breaths, using their shoulders rather than their diaphragm (the muscle at the base of the chest) to move air in and out of their lungs. This breathing style can make feelings of anxiety last longer by making the physical symptoms of stress worse. Controlling your breathing can help to improve some of these symptoms. Try counting to three as you breathe in slowly – then count to four as you breathe out slowly. Controlled breathing helps slow down the physical changes in the body that result from anxiety, and in turn, helps reduce anxiety.

Close your eyes and slowly tense and then relax each of the muscles from your toes to your head. Hold the tension for three seconds and then release. This can help reduce the feelings of muscle tension that often comes with anxiety. Many online videos can talk you through this.

Keeping active, eating well, going out into nature, spending time with family and friends, reducing stress, and doing the activities you enjoy are all effective ways to reduce anxiety and improve your wellbeing.

Be mindful of caffeine or stimulant intake throughout the day, as this can increase feelings of anxiety and physical symptoms of anxiety.

Avoiding what makes you anxious provides some relief in the short term but can make you more anxious in the long term. Take small steps to address your fears in a manageable way for you. This will help create a feeling of control over anxiety.

Our thoughts impact how we feel. Anxiety attempts to overestimate danger and underestimate your ability to navigate this situation. Look at the facts for and against your thought being true.

Talking with others who also experience anxiety – or are going through something similar – can help you feel less alone. Visiting online forums such as Beyondblue or Headspace Forums can help.

What advice would you give to a friend in this situation? Generally, we give kind and thoughtful advice to others but can be very negative toward ourselves. Find ways to be kinder to yourself and practice self-care.

    How can I help someone with anxiety?

    How you support someone with anxiety will differ depending on their age and personal circumstances. Here are some suggestions:

    • Encourage them to write down their worries, if they can, or to talk with someone they trust.
    • Ask about the strategies they use to manage their anxiety, or times when they were able to do something that they felt anxious about. Ask them what would help them to do that again.
    • Encourage problem-solving and a growth mindset, especially in kids. A growth mindset is a belief that a person challenges and capabilities can be improved over time. This mindset can help them see anxiety as something that they can get better at managing with practice.
    • Encourage them to seek support from a Psychologist or another suitable therapist. Is the most common and evidence-based approach to managing anxiety. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is the most common and evidence-based approach to managing anxiety. CBT is a talking therapy based on the idea that how you think and act affects how you feel. Other therapy interventions are available and have evidence behind them. It is important to find the right approach for each individual.

    Our Psychology Services

    At Therapy Focus, our qualified psychologists support people who experience social, emotional, and mental health difficulties. They help people understand the issues and challenges they are facing, then provide strategies and interventions to help overcome them.

    Our psychology services are available to people of all ages who have Autism Spectrum Disorder, intellectual, neurological, and physical disabilities, as well as developmental delays. Services can be provided at home, at school, in our offices, in community settings or online via teletherapy. You can find out more here. Or contact us on 1300 135 373

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