What is anxiety?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry or nervousness that doesn’t go away. Everyone feels stressed or under pressure from time to time. This is a normal reaction in certain situations, like if you have an important exam coming up. Anxiety is actually your body’s natural response to threats, whether they are actual or perceived. A certain level of anxiety is normal, and even helpful in some situations. For example, if we see a poisonous spider close to us, it would be normal to freak out and quickly try to get away from potential danger. In this sense, anxiety is actually your body’s way of keeping you safe.

But an anxiety condition is when we constantly feel this way, even in situations that don’t present an obvious challenge. Feelings of stress or pressure usually leave once a situation improves or changes, whereas anxiety is a constant.

This condition can become very serious, preventing people from fully participating in everyday life. It can have an impact on school, relationships, work and family life. While we can all feel stressed occasionally, anxiety cannot easily be controlled. Visit ReachOut or or Youth Beyond Blue for more information about anxiety .

What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?

There are a whole range of signs that might mean you’re feeling anxious or have an anxiety disorder. Some common physical symptoms to look out for include:

  • racing heart (heart palpitations) or tightening of the chest or throat
  • rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • feeling tense, restless, ‘on edge’ or wound up
  • hot and cold flushes
  • sweating
  • shaking
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • feeling weak or tired
  • stomach or digestion issues

You might also experience:

  • obsessive thinking, excessive fear and worrying
  • a sense of impending panic or danger
  • imagining the worst-case scenario
  • difficulty thinking about anything other than what’s worrying you
  • difficulty focusing on and performing everyday activities
  • difficulty sleeping

It’s important to get treatment if you have anxiety, as stress and anxiety can actually have serious long-term effects on our bodies. Learn more about these physical effects here. Our minds and bodies have a really strong influence on one another — more than we might realise!

Keep in mind that some people might have different symptoms, and only a doctor can properly diagnose an anxiety disorder. If you’re unsure about bringing up feelings of anxiety with your parents/guardians, read more about how to visit a doctor on your own here.

Types of anxiety

There are several different types of anxiety, and some people might even experience a combination of these different types. Some common types of anxiety are:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder: constantly being worried about everything and anything.
  • Social anxiety disorder: feeling anxious in social situations, often due to a fear of doing something wrong or being judged by others. Learn more about social anxiety here.
  • Panic disorder: having repeated panic attacks and worrying about future panic attacks.
  • Agoraphobia: anxiety about having a panic attack in certain situations and not being able to escape and get help.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder: anxiety that leads to obsessive behaviour and compulsions to do certain things.
  • Specific phobias: an intense fear of objects or situations, such as a fear of heights.
What causes anxiety?

Like most mental health conditions, a combination of factors can lead to anxiety. These factors include:

  • Family history: People with anxious parents may also develop anxiety.
  • Stressful life events: Things like big changes in living arrangements, financial stress, stressful work situations, family and relationship problems, and the loss of a loved one can trigger anxiety.
  • Physical health issues: Some chronic health conditions such as asthma, food allergies, and heart conditions can contribute to symptoms of anxiety.
  • Personality factors: People with certain traits like being a perfectionist and having low self-esteem can contribute to anxiety.
  • Other mental health conditions: Some people just experience an anxiety disorder, but it’s also common for someone to have anxiety as well as another mental health condition.

Beyond Blue has some great resources, such as this one, about the causes and warning signs of anxiety.

Where to get help

If you think that you might be experiencing anxiety, it’s important to seek help. And there are heaps of places you can find help – often for free.

Depending on how severe your anxiety is, you may be able to control your symptoms by making changes in your everyday life, such as building regular exercise into your daily routine or seeking out self-help strategies like mindfulness meditation.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your anxiety, you should consider talking to a professional. They will be able to develop strategies to help you deal with your condition. Talk to a trusted teacher about contacting your school counsellor, or you could see a professional outside of school. Beyond Blue has great information on different approaches to help you deal with anxiety, as well as places to get help.

Getting help at school

Talk to your school counsellor about how you’re feeling. If you don’t know who the counsellor is at your school, ask a teacher about getting help. They will be able to refer you to the right staff member.

Talk to your doctor

Talk to your local doctor about your anxiety. They will be able to refer you to a specialist doctor in this field.

Get in touch with professionals

Contact a mental health organisation like Beyond Blue, Kids Helpline, ReachOut or Headspace. Each of these organisations have support phone-lines and chat rooms with trained professionals waiting to help. And it’s free.

Be kind to yourself

Be open about how you’re feeling. If you feel comfortable enough, tell a good friend about how you’re feeling. They might be able to help. You could also look into downloading mental health apps to help you meditate and reach a state of calm.

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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