Anxiety: more common than you may think
We all feel anxious from time to time: whether it’s just before giving a public speech or participating in a competition, flying, getting married, attending a job interview or being in a risky or dangerous situation.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to a high-pressure situation, but if you experience similar symptoms persistently or intensely without justification, it could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.
Recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Survey of Mental Health show two million Australians currently live with anxiety, which makes it twice as common as depression. One in 10 men and one in six women will experience some type of anxiety disorder during their lifetime.
Anxiety can be debilitating, it can cause a great deal of anguish for those experiencing it and prevent them from functioning well and living a normal life. Men in particular are more likely to try to make themselves feel better with alcohol and drugs rather than addressing the problem.
Every anxiety disorder is different, but most generally involve unrelenting feelings of tension, distress or nervousness. A person may avoid, or grudgingly endure, situations which cause these types of feelings.
Not only can an anxiety disorder affect the person experiencing the illness, but it can also start to affect relationships with family members and friends. Untreated anxiety disorders can lead to marriage and family problems, financial difficulties, job loss, drug and alcohol abuse and in extreme cases, self-harm.
Anxiety disorders are manageable with the right treatment. Psychological treatments have been proven to be very effective and medication is also used to treat some anxiety disorders.
Types of anxiety disorders
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the most widespread anxiety disorder is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is commonly associated with veterans who have experienced or witnessed the horrors of war. However, PTSD can be triggered by any trauma – for example, sexual abuse, an accident, natural disaster, kidnapping or witnessing a crime. People who work in emergency services are particularly vulnerable to PTSD.
Phobias are the next most common anxiety disorders, affecting 5 per cent of people. People with social phobias may dread leaving the house, going to parties or meeting new people. Common phobias include a fear of flying, germs, snakes, animals or confined spaces. It’s not unusual for someone to have several phobias. Agoraphobia is a fear of leaving an environment considered safe, usually the person’s house. This disorder can be so severe, agoraphobic people may remain housebound for weeks, months or even years.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder – People who have GAD can feel anxious on most days for at least six months. Generally, they worry about real issues such as finances, illness or family problems – to the point where it can affect their functioning every day.
Panic disorder – People with panic disorder experience intense, almost uncontrollable, feelings of anxiety. They may have frequent panic attacks, which include short bursts of feeling anxious, feelings of dread, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, tingles or chills, shaking and chest pain. These chest pains can often be mistaken for a heart attack.
The least prevalent anxiety disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is one of the most well-known. People with OCD are compelled to repeat a certain action to achieve satisfaction, for example, constantly cleaning or checking to confirm that appliances are turned off or doors locked. People with OCD may also experience intrusive thoughts about becoming sick, having an accident or dying.
“I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t concentrate and I’d go to work in a fog. Your brain just seizes. I had to sit down all the time. The anxiety would paralyse me with fear. For me, it was terrifying.” – Australian actor and beyondblue Board Director Garry McDonald on the anxiety attacks he experienced in his 20s and 30s.
Help for anxiety
- The beyondblue website has a comprehensive section on anxiety disorders, including anxiety checklists to fill out. Or, you can order free information by calling the beyondblue information line on 1300 22 4636 (local call cost from a landline). This includes six new fact sheets on specific anxiety disorders.
- Talking to a General Practitioner is a good starting point.
- Under the Federal Government’s Better Access to Mental Health Care Scheme, if referred by a GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician, you may qualify for Medicare rebates for up to 12 consultations with a psychologist, occupational therapist or social worker in mental health. Talk to your GP or call the beyondblue info line for more information.