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Anxiety - causes, signs and treatment options

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Three million Australians are living with depression or anxiety, so it’s important for people to know what to look out for, in case someone needs help. This article, which shares information courtesy of beyondblue, highlights what anxiety is and what causes anxiety, signs and symptoms and how to get help. This is the first in a series of articles which will also share information on depression and suicide, with the aim of improving awareness of mental health.

Depression and anxiety are common conditions.

Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. In Australia, it is estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

In any one year, around one million Australian adults have depression, and over two million have anxiety. 

While depression and anxiety are different conditions, it is not uncommon for them to occur at the same time. Over half of those who experience depression also experience symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, one can lead to the onset of the other.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. While stress and anxious feelings are a common response to a situation where a person feels under pressure, it usually passes once the stressful situation has passed, or ‘stressor’ is removed.

Anxiety is when these anxious feelings don't subside. Anxiety is when they are ongoing and exist without any particular reason or cause. It’s a serious condition that makes it hard for a person to cope with daily life. We all feel anxious from time to time, but for a person experiencing anxiety, these feelings cannot be easily controlled.

What causes anxiety?

As with depression, it's often a combination of factors that can lead to a person developing anxiety.

Family history of mental health problems

People who experience anxiety often have a history of mental health problems in their family. However, this doesn't mean that a person will automatically develop anxiety if a parent or close relative has had a mental illness.

Ongoing stressful events

Stressful events can also trigger symptoms of anxiety. Common triggers include:

  • job stress or job change

  • change in living arrangements

  • pregnancy and giving birth

  • family and relationship problems

  • major emotional shock following a stressful or traumatic event

  • verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma
  • death or loss of a loved one.

Physical health problems

Continuing physical illness can also trigger anxiety or complicate the treatment of either the anxiety or the physical illness itself. Common conditions that can do this include:

  • hormonal problems (e.g. overactive thyroid)
  • diabetes
  • asthma
  • heart disease

If there is concern about any of these conditions, ask a doctor for medical tests to rule out a medical cause for the feelings of anxiety.

Substance use

Heavy or long-term use of substances such as alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines or sedatives can cause people to develop anxiety, particularly as the effects of the substance wear off. People with anxiety may find themselves using more of the substance to cope with withdrawal-related anxiety, which can lead to them feeling worse.

Personality factors

Some research suggests that people with certain personality traits are more likely to have anxiety. For example, children who are perfectionists, easily flustered, lack self-esteem or want to control everything, sometimes develop anxiety during childhood or as adults.

Everyone is different and it's often a combination of factors that can contribute to a person developing anxiety. It's important to note that you can't always identify the cause of it or change difficult circumstances.

The most important thing is to recognise the signs and symptoms of anxiety and to seek help. The sooner you seek help, the sooner you can recover.

Signs and symptoms

The symptoms of anxiety are sometimes not all that obvious as they often develop gradually and, given that we all experience some anxiety at some points in time, it can be hard to know how much is too much.

Some common symptoms include

  • hot and cold flushes
  • racing heart
  • tightening of the chest
  • snowballing worries
  • obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour.

These are just some of a number of symptoms that may be experienced. If you are familiar with any of these symptoms, check the more extensive list of symptoms common to the different types of anxiety disorders below. They are not designed to provide a diagnosis – for that you need to see a doctor – but they can be used as a guide.

Treatments for anxiety

There are many health professionals and services available to help with anxiety information, treatment and support, and there are many things that people with anxiety can do to help themselves.

In addition to traditional health professional approaches, there are also a number of effective online therapies which can assist and treat anxiety disorders. Many of these are free, anonymous and easily accessible for anyone with internet access.

Effective treatment helps people with anxiety to learn how to control the condition so it doesn’t control them. The type of treatment will depend on the type of anxiety being experienced. Mild symptoms may be relieved with lifestyle changes (e.g. regular physical exercise) and self-help (e.g. online e-therapies). Where symptoms of anxiety are moderate to severe, psychological and/or medical treatments are likely to be required.

Please visit beyondblue’s website for advice on next steps.

This information is courtesy of beyondblue, and more comprehensive information on anxiety and treatment is available on the beyondblue website.

Next week we'll share information on depression.

Find out more

beyondblue support service - 1300 22 4636

beyondblue website

The facts – anxiety

The facts – depression

The facts - suicide

If you or someone you know needs help, contact:

beyondblue: 1300 22 4636  

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Last updated
29 May 2017

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Published: 09 Oct 2015
News type: News article

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