WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety is what WE FEEL when we are worried, tense or afraid particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.
Feeling anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
There are some commonly diagnosed anxiety disorders and these include GAD (generalised anxiety disorder), SAD (Social anxiety disorder: also known as social phobia. Panic disorder, Selective Mutism, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Phobias, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder), Health anxiety (related to OCD).BDD Body dysmorphic disorder, POCD Perinatal anxiety, Specific Phobias.
Each type has its unique symptoms in addition to the common signs of anxiety.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO LEARN ABOUT ANXIETY?
Most people do not recognize their anxiety for what it is, and instead, think there is something “wrong” with them. Some people are preoccupied with the physical symptoms of anxiety (e.g., stomach aches, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, etc.). Others think they are weird, weak, or even going crazy! Unfortunately, these thoughts only make people feel even more anxious and self-conscious.
Therefore, the first step to successfully managing anxiety is to learn to understand and recognise it. Self-awareness is essential.
Remember: To feel most anxiety is a common and normal experience and it CAN be managed successfully. Everyone experiences anxiety at times. For example, it is normal to feel anxious when on a rollercoaster, or before a job interview.
Anxiety is adaptive. It is a system in our body that helps us to deal with real danger (for example, anxiety allows us to jump out of the way of a speeding car) or to perform at our best (for example, it motivates us to prepare for a big presentation). When you experience anxiety, your body’s “fight-flight-freeze” response (also called the “adrenaline response”) is triggered. This response prepares your body to defend itself.
WHAT CAUSES ANXIETY
We experience anxiety when we PERCEIVE or THINK that we are in danger. This response as outlined above, is known as the “fight or flight” response and is great when there is an actual danger (such as encountering a lion or bear), but becomes a problem when the “perceived danger” is not dangerous (giving a talk, seeing a dog)
There is no one specific trigger that causes midlife anxiety. Instead, people who experience anxiety in middle age are often burdened with simultaneous stressors that other generations aren’t facing: the raising of children, while at the same time trying to hold down jobs and care for elderly parents. Top this off with the financial pressures of putting children through School/Uni, empty nest syndrome, and facing worries of possibly not having saved enough for a retirement that is drawing ever closer, and stress rises even higher.
While no one knows exactly what causes anxiety problems, experts agree there are probably lots of factors involved. This page covers some things which make anxiety problems more likely to happen:
- past or childhood experiences
- your current life situation
- physical and mental health problems
- drugs and medication
Can anxiety problems be inherited genetically?
Research shows that having a close relative with anxiety problems increases your chances of experiencing anxiety problems yourself. But at the moment there is not enough evidence to show whether this is because we share some genetic factors that make us more vulnerable to developing anxiety, or because we learn particular ways of thinking and behaving from our parents and other family members as we grow up.
WHEN DOES ANXIETY BECOME A PROBLEM?
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.
HOW COMMON IS ANXIETY IN AUSTRALIA?
Anxiety is THE most common mental health condition in Australia.
On average, one in four people – one in three women and one in ﬁve men – will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.
In a 12-month period, over two million Australians will experience anxiety.
WHAT DOES ANXIETY FEEL & LOOK LIKE?
Anxiety can feel different for everyone.
It is important to remember that anxiety is not usually dangerous. Although anxiety may feel acutely uncomfortable, in itself, it is not dangerous or harmful to you if you can control it. Remember, all the sensations you feel when you are anxious are there to protect you from danger, not hurt you.
Anxiety can cause many sensations in your body as it prepares for danger. These sensations are called the “alarm reaction”, which takes place when the body’s natural Alarm System (the “fight-flight-freeze” response) has been activated.
Listed below are some of the more common anxiety effects (symptoms) that can affect your body and your mind and the reasons why we feel them. When you have a panic attack, you feel many of these symptoms acutely together and they build very quickly.
- Nausea, stomach upset (When faced with danger, the body shuts down systems/processes that are not needed for survival; that way, it can direct energy to functions that are critical for survival. Digestion is one of the processes that is not needed at times of danger. Because of this, anxiety might lead to feelings of stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhea.)
- Feeling light-headed or dizzy – (Because our blood and oxygen go to major muscle groups when we are in danger, we breathe much faster to move oxygen toward those muscles. However, this response can cause hyperventilation (too much oxygen from breathing very rapidly to prepare the body for action), which can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Also, since most of your blood and oxygen is going to your arms and legs (for “fight or flight”), there is a slight decrease of blood to the brain, which can also make you dizzy. Don’t worry though: the slight decrease in blood flow to the brain is not dangerous at all).
- Pins and needles – Hyperventilation (taking in too much oxygen) can also cause numbness and tingling sensations. The tingling sensations can also be related to the fact that the hairs on our bodies often stand up when faced with danger to increase our sensitivity to touch or movement. Finally, fingers and toes may also feel numb/tingly as blood flows away from places where it is not needed (like our fingers) and towards major muscle groups that are needed (like our arms).
- Restlessness or unable to sit still – (obviously a chemical and physical reaction that allows our bodies to get ready for ‘flight’)
- Rapid breathing -(The result of adrenaline rushing through the body)
- A fast, thumping, pounding heart or irregular heartbeat –(When your body is preparing itself for action, it makes sure enough blood and oxygen are being circulated to your major muscle groups and essential organs, allowing you to run away or fight off danger).
- Sweating or hot flushes –(Sweating cools the body. It also makes the skin more slippery and difficult for an attacking animal or person to grab hold of you.
- Hot Flushes may be related to sweating and constriction of blood vessels in the upper skin layer. This constriction also helps to reduce blood loss if you are injured. These sensations are especially common at hormonal periods ie peri or menopause)
- Tight or Painful Chest, Back Ache, and other pains – Your muscles tense up as your body prepares for danger. So your chest may feel tight or painful when you take in large breaths while those chest muscles are tense)
- Insomnia and problems sleeping
- Grinding your teeth, especially at night
- Needing the toilet more or less often
- Choking sensations – (Increased muscle tension around the neck or rapid breathing dries out the throat, which may make you feel like you are choking).
- Changes in your sex drive
- Having panic attacks.
- Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
- Unreality or bright vision – (When responding to danger, our pupils dilate to let in more light and to make sure that we can see clearly enough. This reaction makes our environment look brighter or fuzzier, and sometimes less real).
- Heavy legs – As the legs prepare for action (fight or flight), increased muscle tension, as well as increased blood flow to those muscles, can cause the sensation of heavy legs).
- Having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst, worrying about the future, excessive worrying.
- Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down or isn’t real (Derealisation or depersonalisation is feeling disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn’t real (this is a type of dissociation)
- Feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you –(Anxiety is mostly anonymous. Most people -except those close to you- cannot tell when you are anxious).
- Feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or, that bad things will happen if you stop worrying -(Rumination – thinking a lot about bad experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again)
- Worrying about anxiety itself, for example worrying about when panic attacks might happen
- Wanting lots of reassurance from other people or worrying that people are angry or upset with you
- Worrying that you’re losing touch with reality,
- Having an ‘out of body experience’ -(Depersonalisation – feeling disconnected from your mind or body, or like you’re watching someone else (this is a type of dissociation)
During a panic attack you might feel very afraid that you’re:
- losing control
- going to faint
- having a heart attack
- going to die
WHAT ANXIETY LOOKS LIKE
WHAT ANXIETY OFTEN FEELS LIKE FOR ME
WHAT ANXIETY OFTEN FEELS LIKE FOR ME
I heard someone explain what Anxiety felt like for him a few years ago and it resonated with me. It went something like this:
“Anxiety feels like that feeling you get when you were young and sitting in class and you would rock back on your chair. Sometimes you would go too far and overbalance slightly, and you would get this feeling of utter dread and helplessness because you know you are going to fall backwards”.
“Well, imagine feeling those seconds of when you are about to go over and it lasts minutes, hours and days, weeks and months on and off”.
Your body tenses and can’t relax, your sense of fear goes into overdrive, your heart races crazily, your stomach clenches and does somersaults and you can’t think properly. The impending crash and the result could be catastrophic physically. You go lightheaded, can’t think, you feel surreal, feel as though you are watching yourself fall from afar. You want to scream, cry, laugh, don’t know…..Waiting for impending doom! That is how anxiety feels for me. Until it reaches a crescendo and you have a full-blown panic attack and the mind just shuts down.
MIDLIFE ANXIETY TREATMENT AND HOW TO GET HELP
One of the best ways to manage anxiety is to reduce your stress. There are many things you can do to accomplish this and a side benefit is that they are also good for your overall health:
**Talking to someone you trust about what’s making you anxious could be a relief. It may be that just having someone listen to you and show they care can help in itself.
**Look after your physical health by incorporating the following:
-Daily physical exercise: Newest research recommends that we all do some type of aerobic exercise at least 30 minutes a day, a total of 5 days per week. Regular physical exercise causes the brain to release serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter. Serotonin helps to reduce stress, improve your mood, and gives you more energy. Low-impact exercise, such as swimming, yoga or walking are great examples of workouts that will help raise your serotonin levels.
-Breathing exercises: These can help you cope and feel more in control.
–Sleep: Try to get enough sleep as it can give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences.
-Diet: Eating healthily and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference in your mood and energy levels.
Some types of food or drink can trigger symptoms of anxiety or panic, or make them worse. These include sugar and caffeine. Try to avoid alcohol whch is a well known depressant in the brain.
**Make time for relaxation and self-love. When your days are filled with rush, rush, rush – relaxation time can be hard to come by. Relaxing is crucial to reducing anxiety and stress levels. Therefore, try to set aside time every day, just for yourself. Relaxation can come from simple activities that you look forward to, such as soaking in a warm bath at the end of your day or taking a few minutes to read, meditate or listen to some soothing music. Alternative remedies, like reflexology, hypnosis, and massage may help bring a sense of calm. Listen to peaceful or uplifting music
**Silence your phone and put away your laptop or tablet (or at least turn off all but the most important alerts). Limit your use of social media and reduce the amount of time you spend reading the news. We’re so used to having our electronics with us at all times, but getting constant notifications and reading endless news reports about crime, wars, and world problems can keep you from truly relaxing. Give yourself an electronic break every day.
*Bring nature to your existence. Sunlight provides natural Vitamin D and there is evidence to suggest it plays an important role for the nervous health in the brain. Walk outdoors, and be familiar with all your 5 senses in order to stimulate serotonin and dopamine -the “feel-good” neurotransmitters- in the brain.
**Visualization and Mindfulness – Imagine yourself in a peaceful setting. Your brain can’t distinguish between a real setting and one you visualize, so reduce your stress by imagining yourself on a tranquil beach or in a beautiful forest. Smell the salt air at the beach or a waterfall in a bush setting, imagine the sound of the waves on the sand or the birds singing in the trees. Being as specific as you can and trying to imagine all the aspects of the setting can take you away from your stressors and help you unwind. Mindfulness teaches us how to respond to stress with an awareness of what is happening in the present moment, rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision. By teaching awareness for one’s physical and mental state at the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptive reactions to difficult situations.
**Keep a diary – It might help to make a note of what happens when you get anxious or have a panic attack. This could help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you, or notice early signs that they are beginning to happen. You could also make a note of what’s going well. Living with anxiety can mean you think a lot about things that worry you or are hard to do. It’s important to be kind to yourself and notice the good things too. Many people claim journaling is a great is a positive habit that helps with their anxiety.
** Peer Support – Bringing together people who’ve had similar experiences, helps to support each other. Many people find it helps them to share ideas about how to stay well, connect with others and feel less alone. Support groups for anxiety in Australia include:
www.anxietynetwork.com – Information on anxiety disorders, related programs, workshops and courses – as well as stories from people living with these disorders.
www.arcvic.com.au – Information about anxiety disorders, their management and links.
www.crufad.org – Information about depression, anxiety and its management.
www.adavic.org.au – Information about Panic Disorder, Social Phobia, Agoraphobia, Generalised Anxiety and Depression, and support services
www.socialanxietyassist.com.au – Information on social anxiety and panic attacks, first-hand accounts from people living with these conditions and links
depressionet.com.au/resources/services/nsw/ada.html – Information on anxiety disorders, related resources and support groups
www.grow.net.au – Details of weekly depression and anxiety-related support group meetings, various social activities and group leader training weekends
www.sane.org – Mental health-related information, tips, links and online help
www.reconnexion.org.au – Information on anxiety and depression (including post-natal depression) and details on related research and publications
**Complimentary and Alternative Therapies: These type of threapies include yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, reflexology, herbal treatments, hypnotherapy.
If self-help resources aren’t likely to help or aren’t working with the anxiety problems you’re experiencing, you need to see and speak with your Doctor/GP to look into other options such as talking with a professional. Particularly if your anxiety is causing you extreme distress or disrupting your daily life. Anxiety is treatable and the majority of people who seek help can improve, reduce or eliminate their anxiety symptoms. It may be beneficial to work with a psychologist to address or help with specific concerns.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that is very effective for treating anxiety in middle age. CBT helps you understand how your negative thoughts contribute to your anxiety symptoms. By learning to recognize these negative thought patterns, you can change them, which allows you to manage your symptoms. Additionally, cognitive behavioural therapy teaches you skills and techniques for coping with your midlife anxiety.
CBT is often used in conjunction with exposure therapy. Exposure therapy allows you to gradually confront your fears in a safe environment and in a way that gives you control. When you face your fears without harm, you reduce your anxiety by learning that the outcome you feared is unlikely to happen.
HOW YOU CAN HELP SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY
It can be really difficult when someone you care about is experiencing anxiety problems or panic attacks, but there are things you can do to help.
Try not to put pressure on your friend or family member to do more than they feel comfortable with. It’s really important to be patient, listen to their wishes and take things at a pace that feels okay for them.
It’s understandable to want to help them face their fears or find practical solutions, but it can be very distressing for someone to feel they’re being forced into situations before they feel ready. This could even make their anxiety worse. Try to remember that being unable to control their worries is part of having anxiety, and they aren’t choosing how they feel.
**TRY TO UNDERSTAND
- Find out as much as you can about anxiety. This will help you understand what they are going through. Reading personal experiences can help too.
- Ask about their experience. You could ask them how anxiety affects their day-to-day life, and what makes it better or worse. Listening to their experience could help you to empathise with how they feel.
**BE KIND, NON-JUDGEMENTAL AND BE THERE FOR SUPPORT
*Ask how you can help or what they need so they feel more in control
**SUPPORT THEM TO SEEK HELP. If you think your friend or family member’s anxiety is becoming a problem for them, you could encourage them to seek appropriate treatment by talking to a GP or therapist. You could:
- Offer to help them arrange a doctor’s appointment. If they are scared of leaving the house, you could suggest they ring their GP to find out if they will do home visits.
- Offer support when they attend appointments. You could offer to go with them to their appointments and wait in the waiting room. You can also help them plan what they’d like to talk about with the doctor.
- Help them seek help from a therapist.
- Help them research different options for support, such as community services or peer support groups such as those listed above.
**LOOK AFTER YOURSELF
It can sometimes be challenging to support someone with a mental health problem – you are not alone if you feel overwhelmed at times. It is important to remember to look after your own mental health too, so you have the energy, time and distance you need to be able to help.
HOW YOU CAN HELP SOMEONE WITH ANXIETY
HELPING SOMEONE WHO IS HAVING A PANIC ATTACK
It’s reasonable to feel frightened if someone you care about experiences a panic attack – especially if it seems to happen without warning. But it can help if you:
-try to stay calm
-gently let them know that you think they might be having a panic attack and that you are there for them
-encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply – it can help to count out loud o
-encourage them to stamp their feet on the spot
-encourage them to sit somewhere quietly until they feel better
**You should never encourage someone to breathe into a paper bag during a panic attack. This isn’t recommended and it might not be safe.
THE BUSHFIRE CRISIS IN AUSTRALIA AND ANXIETY
The start of a New Year is meant to be a joyous occasion. We are meant to feel renewed hope, a sense of relief at an ending and excitement for wondrous new beginnings.
While the Australian Bushfires have elicited a positive response from fellow Aussies and the World Over in the form of showing we are united, we support one another and in donations and prayers, the reality is, they are still raging. There is a massive loss of life, of communities, homes and livelihoods and it is not over. I think most Australians are feeling overwhelmed, devastated, on edge, incredibly sad, stressed and anxious. This is normal. There is no right way or wrong way to respond to this catastrophe.
“Natural disasters shatter our sense of security“, according to Beyond Blue chief executive Georgie Harman.
If you are experiencing a heightened sense of anxiety, this article may be of some help.
Tips on what to do for managing your anxiety during the bushfire crisis.
-Manage exposure to media — especially for children. Experts say there’s no need for people to see the same images on TV or social media. Check-in regularly with the news, but balance it out with leisure activities that reduce stress.
-Recognise when you’re anxious and have a strategy. Continuing heightened levels of adrenaline and anxiety are common after living through a disaster. Experts say the adrenaline converts to anxiety when there is nothing we can do to solve the problem now. Having strategies in place to reduce anxiety arousal can help. Deep breaths, going for a walk, exercising and burning off excess energy can help, Dr Gordon said. He also recommended cutting down on stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol.
-Have confidence in your future: you are not alone. It may not be obvious now, but even if you have lost your home, be confident in your future. “Call to mind that even though you can’t see it now, many people have been through the exact same experience in previous fires,” Dr Gordon said. “And they have homes and good lives again. You will not be in this alone.”
-Professional emotional help is available. “If the symptoms are too intense, or over the next few weeks are not getting better, seek advice on recovery from your GP or a mental health professional,” Dr Gordan said. Experts said the earlier these feelings were addressed, the more likely they would be resolved. And watch out for friends or family members who have been in the frontline, as symptoms of trauma may not show up for weeks or months.
-Look after yourself. Even if you haven’t been affected by trauma directly you can still feel sad, stressed and upset. Try to minimise exposure to upsetting images by reducing your time on social media and be careful not to use alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism.
-Prioritise spending time with family and social networks. According to Dr Gordon, re-establishing enjoyable family and social routines is a big priority in order to deal with trauma. For those people directly impacted, he said try to think about the things that were important and you did regularly — and start doing them again. “Don’t forget to have fun,” he said. “The whole family needs to get out of their high-arousal, high-adrenaline state.” Socialising with people who’ve had the same experience, joking around with “black” humour or hanging out with the community can all help the brain reduce the adrenaline load after a traumatic event.
-There is no rush: a slow recovery is a good recovery. In the aftermath of a disastrous event, it is common to try and “fix” everything, quickly. But if you have been personally affected, being too busy can disrupt the brain’s ability to heal by processing the sensory overload it just experienced, Dr Gordon said. “Do what needs to be done to ensure your family is safe and then prioritise re-consolidating family life,” he said. “There’s time.”
-How you can help:
- Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery
- NSW Rural Fire Service
- RSPCA’s bushfire appeal
- The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal
-Reconstruct the story of what happened For those who have been closely affected, after the emotional intensity of a natural disaster, memories can be frightening. Sit down and go through the full story of what happened, especially if you have children, Dr Gordon said.
-If you or anyone you know needs help:
- beyondblue on 1300 22
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
The Minds Journal