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Anxiety and tips to manage it

One of our experienced psychiatrists, Dr Sagir Parkar, sheds some light on anxiety and shares some great tips on how we can manage it in our lives.

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is the body's natural response to stress. However, when anxiety begins to affect different aspects of a person's life, wherein the person is in a state of perpetual worry or feeling stressed, it is classed as a psychiatric disorder. This can be brought on by various events and different people have different ways of dealing with these and have different thresholds at which they feel anxious.

Common examples in daily life include exams, public speaking, work performance appraisal, financial issues, etc. These are considered ‘normal’ as there is a specific factor that leads us to worry or fear a particular outcome and the feeling often goes away when the stress factor is taken away. If this feeling is sustained for long time or occurs on most days without a specific worry-inducing factor, then it can be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in four people (one in three women and one in five men) experience anxiety at some stage in their life. Within 12-months, over two million Australians may experience anxiety.

What does it feel like?

Different people experience anxiety in different ways. For some this could be a feeling of general uneasiness or worrying about nothing in particular. For some people it might be in the form of difficulty concentrating because the mind is preoccupied with other issues.

The body often physically shows signs such as fast heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth, shaking or twitching nervously as a response to the distressing thoughts that are going through the mind.

This can be accompanied by a feeling that something bad may happen. In many cases a panic attack may accompany Anxiety and this often presents with an uneasy feeling in the stomach (“butterflies”), nausea, rapid and shallow breathing (or breathlessness), palpitations, and a feeling of impending doom or catastrophic outcome.

It is important if you feel overwhelmed to reach out to a close friend or family member for help and support.

Anxiety can either be generalised or specific to a particular incident. Agoraphobia is a specific form of anxiety disorder where a person feels unsafe in leaving their home as they fear they may have a panic attack outside and may not be able to escape that situation. Likewise, Social Anxiety Disorder is a disorder where a person has a fear of being in social environments because they are worried that they might be criticised, humiliated or feel embarrassed.

What causes anxiety?

There is no single factor that can be held responsible for the causation or perpetuation of anxiety. It is a disorder that can have multiple factors involved. To a certain extent, anxiety can be an inherited problem if there is a strong family history of the illness. Psychological and developmental factors have a significant role in many people experiencing anxiety. Other issues such as history of trauma, drug use or other mental health problems also can contribute to varying degrees. Certain medical conditions such as thyroid disease and other endocrine disorders can also lead to anxiety disorders.

Is anxiety treatable?

Yes, there are well researched treatments for anxiety. These vary from medication to self-help books to structured therapy programs. Often a combination of medication and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) is considered the best treatment option.

Having the right kind of support from family and friends is also important in a person’s recovery.

Underlying medical conditions also need to be investigated and treated as part of overall management.

Tips to manage anxiety

1) Breathing techniques are very useful and essential to manage anxiety. In a panic attack or with anxiety in general our breathing tends to get shallower and faster. This deprives the body of Oxygen and in turn makes us breathe even more faster and shallower. Therefore it is important to deliberately slow down our breathing. Breathing into a bag (as shown often on TV shows) helps us breathe in carbon dioxide which helps the respiratory centre in our brain internally regulate the rate of our breathing.

2) Mindfulness is also a key strategy to help focus our thoughts to the present moment and on things that we can see and touch. This helps the mind declutter itself of other distressing thoughts, especially negative thoughts, and also help get our breathing and heart rate under control.

3) Try to maintain an overall healthy lifestyle. Small dietary and lifestyle modifications can help add the benefits in the long run. Some changes can include reducing intake of caffeine or sugary drinks, reducing smoking, having a healthy sleep routine, going out for regular walks and having some form of companionship.

4) Practise muscle relaxation techniques. Ideally it is best to find a quieter or safer spot and try to clench and relax groups of muscles whilst also practising deep breathing and mindfulness. This can be progressive in nature and can involve hands first, followed by other body parts such as shoulders, back, thighs, calves and eventually toes. Better results are achieved through smaller groups of muscles at a time and then moving on to other groups.

5) Being aware of what triggers the anxiety is key to preparing for it. This can help strategize for interventions accordingly. Some people find it useful to keep a diary of events, trigger factors, usual response and time it takes for anxiety to subside. This is not supposed to be confused with avoidance, which often can be a barrier to treatment and progress.

6) Graded exposure can be used as part of therapy and treatment to overcome anxiety by attempting to tackle this in small increments. An example of this is to get out of the front door, then to go to the corner of the street, then to the next block and further on being achieving the goal of being in a shopping centre or bus stop.

It is important if you feel overwhelmed, to reach out to a close friend or family member for help and support.

Telehealth2U offers the support of experienced psychologists and psychiatrists through safe and private online consultations. Appointments are generally bulk billed - which means at no out of pocket cost to you.

If you, or anyone you know, would benefit from this service please call our admin team on 0434 441 843 or click here to request an appointment.

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