How often do you find yourself stuck in ‘catastrophising thinking patterns’?
This means that you are thinking the worst, believing something is far worse than it actually is, creating every possible negative scenario in your mind, and anticipating that things will go wrong. Well … just worrying all the time. Yes, it’s nasty old anxiety and it can be mentally crippling.
Anxiety is the way the body responds to fear, and is a very common mental health condition in Australia. It has been reported that in a 12-month period, over two million Australians experience anxiety.
An anxiety disorder occurs when all that over thinking and excessive worrying severely impacts on one’s life and sense of wellbeing.
Most people will feel anxious sometimes and in response to actual danger, or just before a performance, interview or examination, for example, but a person with an anxiety disorder experiences all the symptoms of anxiety, in situations they perceive as dangerous, and this is ongoing. They can’t seem to stop “over thinking”.
While anxiety may be a common mental health condition, it certainly makes people who are suffering it miserable and frequently unable to focus on their tasks.
Additionally, people suffering from anxiety tend to develop a variety of health conditions such as abdominal concerns, headaches, aches and pains, excessive tiredness and lack of motivation.
The good news however, is that the sooner people with anxiety seek help, the sooner they are likely to recover.
Factors that may lead to Anxiety
Usually an anxiety condition isn’t caused by a single factor, but rather a combination of things. Factors that can play a role, include personality factors, difficult life experiences, and physical health.
Anxiety disorders are usually sustained over time by negative and unhelpful thinking patterns.
Research suggests that people with certain personality traits are more likely to experience anxiety. For example, both adults and children who may be perfectionists, or easily flustered, shy, lacking confidence in themselves, with low self-esteem or wanting to control everything, sometimes develop anxiety during childhood, adolescence or adulthood.
Anxiety conditions may also develop because of any kind of difficult life event such as workplace stress or job change; financial concerns; loss of employment; shifting house; family and relationship conflict or breakdowns; death of a loved one; verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse; ongoing trauma; or a major shock after any kind of traumatic event.
Common Anxiety Disorders
There are a number of types of anxiety disorders with the key conditions being:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder: This type of anxiety occurs where a person worries about anything and is fearful of everything; they even worry about worrying! The sufferer can’t seem to control how much the mind worries and overthinks, and this inhibits their quality of life and impacts on their relationships.
Generalised anxiety disorder may manifest in physical symptoms such as being unable to relax, tiredness and even exhaustion, poor focus, aches and pains anywhere and everywhere, irritability and poor sleep.
Social Anxiety Disorder: This type of anxiety arises in social situations where a person feels very self-conscious. Individuals suffering from social anxiety (also called social phobia) tend to be fearful that people are staring at them and judging them negatively. They are usually unable to go to strange places alone where there are new people, without suffering an anxiety attack.
Panic Disorder: It is reported that around 40% of Australians have a panic attack at some point during their life.
However, a panic disorder occurs when a person suffers repeated and ongoing panic attacks. An attack comes on very quickly and unexpectedly, with the sufferer experiencing an intense rush of fear or anxiety that for the duration of the attack is debilitating. While it may last a few minutes, the physical and emotional effects can continue for a longer period.
Physically, sufferers may experience symptoms as feeling they can’t breathe and shortness of breath, a racing heart, increased body temperature, nausea, dizziness, and tingling in their extremities. Often the person is not aware that such an attack is caused by anxiety. As their anxiety grows, the number of attacks also increase.
This can lead to a vicious cycle: the individual may worry about having a panic attack, perhaps in places where they have had a panic attack before (eg in crowds, an elevator, or any place where they fear they can’t escape from and won’t get help). They may attend certain fearful places only in the company of a well-known person they trust. Even then, the individual’s build-up of fear of a venue may initiate an attack even before they leave home, regardless of with whom they are attending. Consequently they avoid those fearful places, causing the anxiety to remain unresolved, and limiting their lifestyles.
Specific Phobia: Some people also suffer specific phobias such as an intense fear of birds, chickens, dogs, spiders or any other variety of animal or thing.
Treating Anxiety in Adulthood
There are several types of effective psychological treatments that can be implemented for anxiety. Such treatments aim to help people with anxiety disorders to change their thinking patterns and help reduce irrational thoughts, and so manage their anxiety.
One well known treatment is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). This approach teaches sufferers to become aware of their thoughts, and to consciously think more realistically. If a person actively avoids situations or places that cause anxiety, CBT can help with facing their fears and to approach these situations more rationally and calmly.
CBT can also help sufferers to recognise the difference between productive and unproductive worries, and how to let go of those negative and destructive thoughts.
People can also be helped by their therapists using approaches such as relaxation, visualisation and breathing techniques, particularly muscle relaxation, to control anxiety and the physical symptoms of tension.
Each person is different, and it’s often a combination of factors that can contribute to developing an anxiety condition. It’s important to remember that while you can’t always identify the cause of anxiety or change difficult circumstances, there are great benefits to learning to recognise the signs and symptoms, and seeking advice and support.
If you are struggling with anxiety, have a chat to your GP and if required, obtain a referral to a psychologist. If location allows, I would be happy to help you.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment with psychologist and hypnotherapist Dr Jan Philamon, try Online Booking – Loganholme or Online Booking – Mt Gravatt. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129, or Vision Psychology (Mt Gravatt) on (07) 3088 5422.