Anxiety in adulthood can be crippling.
As adults, we have less reliance on caregivers, more rigid plans without room for error, and more everyday worries, all of which increase stress and decrease relaxation and satisfaction in life.
If you feel like worries or fear makes it difficult to concentrate or engage in the life you want, you may have difficulties with anxiety. Often anxiety is pictured as panic attacks; this form of anxiety is extreme and distressing, but it is not particularly representative of anxiety in general.
How Does Anxiety Develop?
Anxiety develops through a combination of genetic vulnerability and experience. This experience may be personal (bitten by a spider), vicarious (seeing or hearing about someone else bitten by a spider), or even imaginative (seeing a film of a giant tarantula attacking a city).
These factors lead into what is called hyper vigilance. This means that as the fear develops, you will be “on the lookout” for that which you fear; if it is spiders, you will slowly become more alert to the presence of spiders in any room you enter, or for snakes, a rustle in the grass may set your heart beating faster.
From here we see anxiety develop in three ways: physical arousal, thoughts and behaviour.
- Physical symptoms of anxiety may be deep, heavy breathing, rapid heart rate, shaking and sweating for a panic attack, although you may notice your heart beat faster, nausea or butterflies and a headache for lesser fears.
- Thoughts that arise with anxiety are generally “I can’ts” which undermine your confidence and escalate the physical fear you feel, and the “what ifs” which catastrophises worries and potential bad events.
- Finally, we see avoidance behaviour, whether this is not entering a room with a spider, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or even sending a text or email instead of a phone call.
All of these manifestations of anxiety are linked, each making the other worse. When you feel physical anxiety you convince yourself you “can’t cope” and feel a strong desire to escape the situation. In return, these thoughts increase physical anxiety and avoidance, and avoidance maintains the anxiety through increased physical symptoms in the situation, and even poorer confidence in one’s self.
Without treatment, symptoms of anxiety often increase and develop into anxiety disorders, where life is significantly impacted by fear.
Forms of Anxiety
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder is characterised by persistent, excessive worries that may be unrealistic. Generalised anxiety is often based on “what ifs” in the future, such as loved ones becoming ill, or not being able to find your luggage on the carousel after exiting an airplane. You may even find yourself worrying about how much you worry!
- Social Anxiety Disorder becomes apparent with intense fear of social and/or performance situations, where the fear is of becoming embarrassed, humiliated or judged. Individuals with social anxiety may agree to social engagements with friends, become excited, and cancel at the last minute, talking themselves out of the event in the process.
- Specific Phobia is an intense, persistent, and unrealistic fear of an object or situation, such as spiders or elevators. Phobias usually begin subtly as a dislike, escalating to full blown fear over time, where the fear becomes so intense the individual may not even be able to see a picture of their fear without panic.
- Panic Disorder is seen with unexpected, recurrent panic attacks, with ongoing worry about having additional panic attacks, or fear of negative health consequences of having panic attacks. Panic attacks are discrete periods of intense fear resulting in symptoms such as fast, deep breathing; rapid heart rate; light-headedness; sweating; trembling; nausea and headaches.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterised by persistent, unwanted thoughts or “obsessions” which result in high anxiety, and/or behaviour to reduce intense anxiety. These repetitive behaviours or mental acts, such as checking, washing or counting, are called “compulsions”.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder develops following involvement in or witnessing a traumatic event. Intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares follow, along with avoidance of reminders, emotional numbing and depression symptoms.
Treatment for Anxiety
One of the most effective treatments for anxiety is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT has exceptional outcomes for anxiety, and each element is specifically targeted for the physical arousal, thoughts and behaviour, providing a comprehensive treatment approach for successfully beating fear and maintaining confidence and gains over time.
Using CBT, the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic are reduced using targeted relaxation training; catastrophic thoughts and excessive, unrealistic worries are transformed using cognitive restructuring; and helping you live the life you want through exposure therapy for avoidance symptoms.
Author: Dr Rose Gillett, B Psych (Hons), D Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Dr Rose Gillett is a Clinical Psychologist working with children, adolescents, adults and couples. She is passionate about helping her clients achieve their goals, and has particular interest areas in attachment concerns in adults and young people, PTSD, and alcohol and drug addiction.
To make an appointment with Clinical Psychologist Dr Rose Gillett, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.