Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where we feel under pressure, they usually pass once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed. Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don’t go away and they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard to cope with daily life. Everyone feels anxious from time to time, but for someone experiencing anxiety, these feelings can’t be easily controlled.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of anxiety conditions are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop slowly over time and, given we all experience some anxiety at various points in our lives, it can be hard to know how much is too much.
Normal anxiety tends to be limited in duration and connected with some stressful situation or event, such as a job interview. The type of anxiety experienced by people with an anxiety condition is more frequent or persistent, not always connected to an obvious challenge, and impacts on their quality of life and day-to-day functioning. While each anxiety condition has its own unique features, there are some common symptoms including:
- Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy
- Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophizing, or obsessive thinking
- Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life
These are just some of a number of symptoms that you might experience. If you’ve experienced any of these it is important to see your GP or health professional for support.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety conditions may develop because of one or more stressful life events. Common triggers include:There is no single cause for anxiety conditions but rather a number of risk factors that may contribute to developing an anxiety condition.
- Family history of mental health conditions
Some people who experience anxiety conditions may have a genetic predisposition towards anxiety and these conditions can sometimes run in a family. However, having a parent or close relative experience anxiety or other mental health condition doesn’t mean you’ll automatically develop anxiety. A number of other factors play a role, including personality factors, adverse life experiences and current life circumstances.
- Personality factors. Research suggests that people with certain personality traits are more likely to have anxiety. For example, children who are perfectionists, easily flustered, timid, inhibited, lack self-esteem or want to control everything, sometimes develop anxiety during childhood, adolescence or as adults.
- Ongoing stressful events.
- Change; work stress or job change, change in living arrangements
- Physical changes, pregnancy and giving birth, health problems, chronic physical illness
- Family and relationship problems
- Verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma
- Death or loss of a loved one.
- Substance use. Some people who experience anxiety may use alcohol or other drugs to help them manage their condition. In some cases, this may lead to people developing a substance use problem along with their anxiety condition. Alcohol and substance use can aggravate anxiety conditions particularly as the effects of the substance wear off. It’s important to check for and get assistance for any substance use conditions at the same time.
Everyone’s different and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing an anxiety condition. It’s important to remember that you can’t always identify the cause of anxiety or change difficult circumstances. The most important thing is to recognise the signs and symptoms and seek advice and support.