Anxiety disorders - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Anxiety disorders

What is anxiety?

At some stage in their life, everybody has experienced feeling nervous and/or has worried about something. This is a normal response when under pressure. However, for some people, these anxious feelings, thoughts, and physical symptoms are overwhelming and persist to the point that they significantly interfere with their daily life.

Any kind of person can be affected by anxiety – introvert/extrovert, young/old, male/female. So this means that anyone can experience anxiety and that you are not alone.

What are the signs/symptoms?

Although people’s experience of anxiety may differ, a common feature is a feeling of stress or worry that is excessive or uncontrollable. Other symptoms may include:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • shallow breathing
  • restlessness
  • avoidance behaviour
  • rapid heartbeat
  • trembling or shaking
  • feeling lightheaded or faint
  • numbness or tingling sensations
  • upset stomach or nausea
  • sweating
  • physical tension
  • sleep disturbance
What can cause anxiety?

Although the causes of anxiety are not clearly understood, there are many factors that may increase your chance of developing anxiety. These include:

  • Biological factors, such as genetic predispositions or poor physical health.
  • Psychological factors, including low self-esteem, unhelpful coping strategies (eg avoidance), or direct or indirect messages from others that the world is threatening or that worry is useful.
  • Social-environmental factors, such as marriage breakdowns, study deadlines, financial hardship, or past experiences of traumatic events.
When does anxiety turn into an anxiety disorder?

Although anxiety is a normal reaction to a stressful situation, it can become severe and cause significant distress or interfere with daily living. If this happens frequently or persists over a long period of time, it is important to see a mental health practitioner to be assessed for an anxiety disorder. There are many different forms of anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, specific phobia, panic disorder, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Things that can help
  • Making lifestyle changes, eg regular exercise, low or no intake of alcohol and caffeine, engaging in enjoyable activities, improving time-management and sleep routines.
  • Understanding how you experience anxiety personally.
  • Actively challenging the symptoms of anxiety to improve coping strategies.
  • Using support networks – friends, family, treating doctor, or community service.
  • Mindfulness techniques that help redirect your attention to the present moment.
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques.
How do I know when I need professional help?

When anxiety is affecting your everyday living activities, psychological assistance should be considered. Free counselling services are offered through Student Life and Learning to all USC students. Alternatively, your GP can provide you with a referral to a private psychologist in the community, to learn more visit Australian Government, Department of Health, Better access to mental health care: fact sheet for patients.

Where can I go for more info?
  • beyondblue — Telephone: 1300 224 636
  • headspace — Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, providing assistance for individuals aged 12–25
  • Lifeline — A 24-hour counselling, suicide prevention and mental health support service Telephone: 131 114
  • sane — Provides information on depression and other disorders Telephone: 1800 187 263
  • Reach Out — Online youth mental health service that provides fact sheets, tools, apps, community forums, stories, videos etc.
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