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Diagnosing anxiety: are your symptoms normal or something more serious?

Anxiety is the most common health condition in Australia – up to one third of women and one fifth of men will experience anxiety at some point in their life. The first step to identifying whether what you’re feeling is normal or whether it may be anxiety, is to look at the symptoms.

What are 5 symptoms of anxiety?

  1. Often feeling worried, nervous, afraid, or panicky to a point that consumes you
  2. Tense muscles, a tight jaw, or teeth grinding
  3. Trouble falling or staying asleep
  4. Nauseousness, lightheaded, or feelings of IBS
  5. Unexplained pins and needles or a feeling of detachment from your body

Anxiety and worry is something we all experience from time to time, and in fact – it is actually one of the ways our body keeps us safe from danger and risk taking behaviour. However, when it becomes overwhelming and starts to dictate the way we live, it could be a sign of something more serious than simple day-to-day stress or worry. Anxiety can be extremely difficult to manage for its sufferers, but can often build quite slowly and go largely unnoticed until it spirals out of control. 

What triggers anxiety?

Like many mental health struggles, the exact cause of anxiety is difficult to pinpoint. Usually, it is a combination of factors such as:

  • Genetics
  • Ongoing stress
  • Brain chemistry
  • Pregnancy or childbirth
  • Trauma
  • Existing or ongoing medical conditions
  • Personality
  • Substance abuse
  • Other mental health issues 

Because of this, we all have a unique experience with anxiety – however it’s important to remember that no matter our experience, there is tailorable treatment available.

More about anxiety triggers

Genetics: Some individuals may be predisposed to anxiety if they have a family history of it – in some cases, we can even “learn” anxious responses.

Personality traits: Some people who hold certain personality traits may be more likely to develop anxiety. For example, those who are perfectionists, easily flustered, timid, have an intense need to control everything, are highly sensitive or lacking in self-esteem.

Stressful events: Stressful or traumatic events can act as a trigger for anxiety. For example, sudden job loss, a change in living arrangements, family or relationship problems, or the death or loss of a loved one.

Biochemistry: Similar to depression, it can be seen that neurotransmitters in the brain may not be functioning normally in those suffering with severe anxiety.

The different types of anxiety

Many people will experience symptoms of more than one type of anxiety, and many will endure anxiety alongside depression. Each type of anxiety has its own set of physical, emotional and mental symptoms, and it’s important to watch out for them.

Generalised anxiety disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) occurs when we feel intensely anxious and worried most of the time – rather than just in some scenarios or situations. The worries are often controlling and related to everyday activities such as work, health and family. Normal tasks can easily become the focus of this type of anxiety and can lead to a fear that something terrible will happen as a result (e.g. intensely worrying about being late for an event).

Social anxiety

This describes an intense fear of being criticised, judged, embarrassed or humiliated in everyday social situations – such as public speaking, being observed, or making small talk. It can often cause us to become avoidant of situations where these fears may be encountered.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is when we suffer from unexpected, recurrent panic attacks. It is not only the occurrence of panic attacks alone that characterises this disorder, but our ongoing worries and anxieties surrounding the implications and consequences of having one. Common signs of a panic attack include a sense of overwhelming panic or fear, the feeling that we are dying or choking, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating and dizziness or feeling faint. Symptoms of panic disorder include those above in addition to derealisation (feeling detached from reality) or depersonalisation (feeling detached from ourselves or our surroundings), hot or cold flushes, trembling, and feeling numb.

Specific phobias

A person may develop intense fear and anxiety related to a specific activity or situation, animal or object – for example, a phobia of spiders or close spaces. While it’s normal to have fears, phobias are diagnosed when the feelings of anxiety or terror are disproportionate to the actual threat. Those suffering from specific phobias are often aware of their response, however their anxious reaction is uncontrollable and feels instinctual.

Other types of anxiety

Other disorders where anxiety is present include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance/medication-induced anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety due to medical conditions (e.g. thyroid or heart problems), separation anxiety, and selective mutism.

Do you feel any of the above? Contact our team of psychologists at Mind Matters. We can discuss a mental health plan that’ll enable you to shrink the frequency and severity of your anxiety.

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