Anxiety is a natural response to a stressful situation. You may feel nervous, worried or apprehensive about what might happen. You may feel that you’re not prepared to face the situation, or you feel overwhelmed. It may be something new that you’re not used to, and you are not sure how things will turn out. These feelings of nervousness and worry are normal and are usually short term. When these feelings remain after the stressful event has resolved, that’s when anxiety can start to interrupt your life and have a negative impact on your daily activities.
Anxiety can cause psychological and physical symptoms. Anxiety varies from person to person, but here are some of the most common anxiety symptoms:
- Feeling nervous or worried
- Feeling panicked or a sense of dread
- Rapid heartrate
- Trouble falling asleep
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Feeling tense
- Unable to focus or think clearly
- Avoiding decisions or situations.
Approximately 14% of Australians are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder each year, making it the most common type of disorder in Australia.
If your anxiety is severe, persistent, long-lasting and affecting your life, it may be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. The main types of disorders are:
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – persistent worry about daily situations and continually feeling overwhelmed. A person with GAD may worry about their family, work, finances and health even if everything is going well and there’s no sign that things will go wrong. GAD often includes physical and psychological symptoms.
- Panic disorder – extreme anxiety that leads to panic attacks. A person with a panic disorder has recurring panic attacks, which is when they have an overwhelming fear and anxiety that is accompanied with physical symptoms (e.g. sweating, breathing rapidly, chest pains). Panic attacks can develop quickly and can happen without any warning.
- Social anxiety disorder – severe anxiety or discomfort in social situations. A person with social anxiety disorder worries that they are negatively viewed by others or will be criticised. This leads to the person avoiding social situations where they are fearful of being humiliated or embarrassed.
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. A person with OCD has recurring and intrusive thoughts and impulses (e.g. fear of contamination) and repetitive behaviours known as compulsions (e.g. washing your hands or checking door locks).
If you are concerned that your anxiety is negatively impacting your wellbeing, thinking and physical health, speak to a health professional.
What are the causes of anxiety and risk factors?
There isn’t one answer for what can cause anxiety, however there are several risk factors that can contribute to having anxiety. These risk factors include:
- Events and situations – Stressful events in your life can cause anxiety. These can include losing or looking for a job, stressful situations at work or school, relationship issues, financial stress, housing trouble, loneliness, grieving, and experiencing trauma or abuse.
- Family history – If members of your family have been diagnosed with a mental health illness, it can increase your chances of developing anxiety. It is not clear whether this is genetic or a learned behaviour that we pick up. It’s important to note that your family history does not mean you will develop anxiety.
- Mental health – A person who has other mental health conditions, such as depression, may also experience anxiety.
- Physical health – A serious health issue or a chronic illness can cause significant worry and anxiety. Examples include diabetes, heart disease, thyroid problems, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic pain.
- Substance abuse – Alcohol and substance use can worsen anxiety symptoms.
If you start to notice anxiety symptoms, you should get help as soon as you can to manage your anxiety. Your GP is often a good place to start as they can make a make a mental health assessment and discuss treatment options. Your GP can refer you to a psychologist who may use cognitive behaviour therapy to help treat the anxiety. Mental health nurses, mental health social workers, and counsellors can also provide help.
If you need to speak to a counsellor, you can call Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
In addition to seeking treatment, you can also try some self-management strategies to manage anxiety. These include:
- Positive self-talk – Instead of saying negative things to yourself (e.g. “I’m not good at this”), try saying something positive (e.g. “I have a lot going on and I am doing the best that I can.”).
- Write down your worries – Try writing down your worries and what’s making you anxious. This can help stop you from thinking about them over and over.
- Put things into perspective – Instead of anticipating the worst-case scenario, ask yourself: “Am I thinking something bad will happen even though it’s unlikely?” Also, think about how you would cope in the unlikely situation something bad does happen.
- Practise mindfulness – Mindfulness as well as breathing and relaxation exercises can help your body and mind to calm down.
- Stay healthy – Exercise, balanced meals and other healthy behaviours can help support you to manage anxiety.
If you’re struggling to cope, call 1300 659 467 to speak to one of our counsellors. You can also click on the floating chat button on the right to chat with a counsellor online. Suicide Call Back Service counsellors are here 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If it is an emergency, please call 000.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). National survey of mental health and wellbeing: Summary of results, 2007