Brisbane Psychologist Nicole Wimmer explains how to recognise if anxiety is controlling your life – and what you can do about it …
Are you struggling with anxiety?
Perhaps you have withdrawn from the world because you just can’t “handle” things? Maybe you have stopped participating in your own life, because of the grip that anxiety has on you?
Take heart, you are not alone and help is available!
Common Anxiety Symptoms
Anxiety symptoms may include:
- Tightening of the chest
- Hot and cold flushes
- Racing or pounding heart
- Frequent urination or diarrhoea
- Upset stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Twitching and shaky hands
- Tensing muscles
- Feelings of apprehension or dread
- Difficulties with concentration
- Relentless worry
- Being unable to relax or sit still
- Inability to focus on one task at a time
- Feeling tense and jumpy
- Anticipating the worst
- Watching for signs of danger
- Feeling like your mind’s gone blank
Perhaps you have seen a psychologist or doctor before about your anxiety symptoms, but felt that it didn’t really help.
This happens sometimes, but please don’t give up. Maybe you just weren’t ready then; or perhaps you didn’t really connect with that particular health professional.
Don’t give up, because it could be that just one visit more makes all the difference!
There are certain situations where increased anxiety is considered a “normal” reaction and others that are not. For example – having to stand up and talk in front of a group is nerve-wracking for most people! If it is your first time, or you don’t do it very often, then feeling anxious is expected.
If however this is something you need to do most days at work or as part of your studies, and your anxiety is overwhelming, then this is problematic.
When your anxiety interferes with your ability to function in your life, then it is usually considered an anxiety disorder.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders and effective treatments are available. Once you understand your anxiety disorder, there are steps you can take to reduce your symptoms and regain control of your life.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD is characterised by worries and fears that cause you to be distracted from your everyday activities. You may also have a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen. People with GAD generally feel anxious pretty much most of the time. Common physical symptoms include insomnia, stomach upset, restlessness, and fatigue.
A phobia is an unrealistic or extreme fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger to most people. Examples may include a fear of dogs or spiders, a fear of flying, or a fear of heights. If the phobia is severe you may go to extreme lengths to avoid the thing you fear. Unfortunately, avoidance only strengthens the phobia.
Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia) is characterised as a debilitating fear of negative appraisal by others and being humiliated in public. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether.
Panic disorder is characterised by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Panic disorder may also be accompanied by agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls, or confined spaces such as an airplane.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD is characterised by unwanted thoughts or behaviours that are difficult to stop or control. If you have OCD, you may be troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to lock the door, or that you might get sick. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as checking locks or washing your hands repeatedly.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is an extreme anxiety disorder that can develop following a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD can be thought of as a constant panic attack. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened, hyper vigilance, startling easily, withdrawing from others, and avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
Treatment Options for Anxiety
Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment—and often in a relatively short amount of time. The specific treatment approach depends on the type of anxiety disorder and its severity.
But in general, most anxiety disorders are treated with behaviour therapy (CBT and exposure), medication, or some combination of the two.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – focuses on thoughts as well as behaviours. CBT helps you identify and challenge the negative thinking patterns and irrational beliefs that fuel your anxiety.
- Exposure Therapy – focuses on confronting your fears in a safe, controlled environment. Through repeated exposures to the feared object or situation, either in your imagination or in reality, you gain a greater sense of control. As you face your fear without being harmed, your anxiety gradually diminishes.
- Medication – A variety of medications, including benzodiazepines and antidepressants, are used in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Medication may sometimes be used in the short-term to relieve severe anxiety symptoms so that other forms of therapy can be pursued.
Author: Nicole Wimmer, B Sc (Psych), MA (Psych), PG Cert Mgmt, Grad Dip Safety Science, MAPS.
Nicole Wimmer is a Psychologist with extensive experience in helping people to overcome problems with anxiety. While addressing current presenting issues with clients, Nicole also focuses on developing skills in the client to better equip them to deal with future challenges as they arise.