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What is anxiety?

Imagine feeling your heart pounding in your chest before you even open your eyes in the morning. Or losing your appetite because you can’t stop worrying about something you said in a work meeting days ago. Or avoiding attending dinner with friends because leaving the house feels overwhelming. For people who suffer with anxiety, every day can feel like this.

Feeling anxious in a stressful situation, such as sitting an exam or presenting in a work meeting, is quite common. As Dr Subhadra Evans, Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at Deakin University explains, everyone can feel stressed, worried or anxious from time to time.

“Stress is an everyday part of life. It includes when we feel that our skills and resources temporarily might not match up to our expectations of what we would like to achieve,” Dr Evans says.

“In the case of anxiety, those worries about being able to cope become uncontrollable and preoccupy the person most of the time, and get in the way of the person’s ability to cope and do the things they need to do.”

According to Beyond Blue, “anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia”, with one quarter of Australians experiencing an anxiety condition at some point during their life.

Dr Evans says prolonged, stressful experiences can trigger anxiety in those at risk, and this can lead to a person’s thoughts feeling out of control.

“The person might also be having trouble in other areas of their life – like they can’t sleep as well, or might have changes in their appetite. They might feel too stressed to eat, they might also be more irritable and perhaps not managing things they would normally manage well,” Dr Evans says.

“They might also be avoiding things because they feel too overwhelmed and can’t cope.”

But anxiety can be managed with the right treatment and support. Dr Evans says people can learn to manage their anxiety with prevention efforts, including modifying lifestyle factors such as healthy eating, exercise, sufficient sleep and relaxation strategies. She also says cognitive behavioural therapy can be an option for some people.

“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment that involves reappraising our thinking in ways that are more helpful. This treatment allows the person to take these skills with them throughout their life,” she says.

“Mindfulness approaches can also be very helpful for people with anxiety.”

Anxiety can affect many different people, at many different times, and can range from mild to severe. If you are suffering with anxiety, speak to your doctor or mental health specialist about treatment, management and support.

If you, or someone you know, needs crisis support, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14. For urgent medical attention, phone 000 immediately.

This information is of a general nature. It does not take into consideration your personal or health conditions. Always consult your GP, medical specialist, or mental health specialist, for health-related advice.


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