What is anxiety?

An anxiety condition is more than stressing out or worrying about work or relationship issues. You might feel stressed if you have a deadline or an event, but this stress is temporary and usually passes when it’s over and the stressor is removed.

Sometimes these anxious feelings don't go away – they can go on and on or happen for no apparent reason and are hard to control. This is what separates feelings of anxiety from an anxiety condition, and it can make daily life extremely difficult to manage.

There are different types of anxiety conditions – learn more about them here.

How common is anxiety?

Three million people in Australia are living with depression, an anxiety condition – or both. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia; in any one year more than two million of us will experience an anxiety condition.

Beyond diagnosable anxiety conditions, many more of us experience anxiety symptoms that may require professional support from time to time. In the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 42.2 per cent of the Australian population (aged 16-85 years) endorsed one of three screening questions about pervasive worry.

What causes anxiety?

A combination of things. You may have experienced something very difficult such as a break-up, losing your job or a health scare. Family history comes into it, as does personality traits and ongoing stress. The truth is, everyone is different, and you may not be able to put your finger on the ‘why’. The most important thing you can do is recognise the symptoms and get support.

What are the signs?

Sometimes, they’re not obvious and can develop slowly over time. Everyone feels anxious at some point and it can be hard to know when it becomes too much.

Look out for:

  • Panic attacks
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Racing heart
  • Feeling edgy
  • Excessive fear or worry
  • Catastrophising
  • Avoiding situations that make you anxious (work, social situations)

This is not an exhaustive list, and they will be different for everyone. If you feel anxious often and it lasts longer than the a stressful event, or if it’s not connected to any event and it’s making an impact on the things you usually do, it might be time to get some more support.

What to do

There are lots of ways you can manage anxiety. A good place to start is Beyond Blue’s anxiety checklist. The short checklist takes you through a series of questions about how you have been feeling in the past two weeks.

You can speak to your GP or other health professional who can link you through to get some tailored support. You can also contact the Beyond Blue Support Service any time to talk things through – they can point you in the right direction.

There are online therapies you can try like Mindspot a free online course developed by psychologists at Macquarie University. Head to Health has information on online and face-to-face therapies to help.

Beyond Blue’s online forums allow you to talk in a safe place, and get strategies from others about how they cope with anxiety.

You can learn more about anxiety and take the anxiety checklist here.

Related reading: Three common misconceptions about anxiety

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