According to Beyond Blue, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, with one in four people experiencing an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.
Both genders are affected, although it is more common in women than in men.
Many sufferers may not even realise they have an anxiety disorder. If it has developed in childhood, the symptoms may seem “normal” as they don’t know any different. However they may describe constant feelings of being upset, uncomfortable, and tense.
It is often only when they notice physical symptoms, or other ways that the anxiety disorder is negatively impacting their life – such as struggling to concentrate when exams are looming, or in a demanding job – that they seek out support.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can be quite scary, as they can make the sufferer feel like they are having a heart attack, or may have a serious illness.
While the anxiety condition often develops in childhood, in other cases it may be triggered by a difficult life situation such as losing a job, a relationship breakdown, a major accident, or the death of a loved one.
It can also come out all of a sudden with no apparent reason.
Types of Anxiety Disorder
The most common types of anxiety disorders are:
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – Excessive uncontrollable worrying about everyday things, such as health, family, friends, money, career, or the future in general.
Panic Disorder – Frequent panic attacks. These intense episodes are marked by rapidly escalating fear or discomfort, usually peaking within minutes, and may include several of the following symptoms:
- struggling to breathe;
- chest pain;
- choking sensation;
- pins and needles, or numbness in various body parts eg arms, face, legs.
Agorophobia – Excessive fear of being in either crowded or open spaces.
Social Phobia – With this type of anxiety disorder, the person constantly worries about embarrassing themselves in a social situation – eg meeting new people and saying something “stupid”, having to eat in front of others.
Specific Phobia – Fear and anxiety about a specific situation to the point where it interferes with the person’s life. For example, a person with a phobia about water may find it prevents them from swimming; or a person with a flying phobia will avoid overseas holidays.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – A compulsive need to check on things. The most common examples I’ve seen are people who need to check they have closed or locked a door, or turned off the iron or hair straighteners – sometimes multiple times, even if they know it’s irrational. They are often embarrassed by their own behaviour so try to keep it secret.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This is an anxiety condition which is triggered by a traumatic event, eg a major car accident, fire or violence, leading the person to suffer from unpleasant symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares, avoidance, and the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Treatment for an Anxiety Disorder
Finding the cause of the anxiety disorder is very important, as this helps to determine the most appropriate treatment.
Often there are a lot of co-existing mental health issues like depression, or the person may have turned to substance abuse as a way of trying to relieve their anxiety symptoms. These can all make treatment more complex.
When working with clients, I find it is important to gain the client’s confidence. Together we will work out a proposed treatment plan. I have found that a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness, and relaxation techniques are effective in helping to reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorder.
CBT works by changing the person’s beliefs, thinking styles, and behaviours. We identify triggers and gradually work on exposing the person to whatever is making them feel anxiety – practice makes perfect!
Mindfulness and relaxation strategies such as grounding techniques, and controlled breathing, equip the client with practical ways to deal with panic attacks and other symptoms.
I’ve also noticed that for some clients, antidepressant medication can help to relieve anxiety symptoms, particularly in the initial stages of treatment.
Sometimes, when only a certain member of the family is suffering, others can start to ridicule them which causes confusion and distress. Part of counselling treatment might then be to provide the sufferer with educating them in ways to handle this. If they are comfortable with disclosing, they can bring another family member to a session, to learn about how to provide support – for example reminding them of breathing and grounding techniques during a panic attack.
I am often asked how long treatment for anxiety takes. This depends on a number of factors, such as:
- how committed the client is, not just to continue therapy but also to practising strategies between sessions;
- their willingness to change;
- whether there are any co-existing issues such as depression or substance abuse.
However often once a client knows how to manage their anxiety, and what they need to do in certain situations, they gain control of their anxiety disorder quite quickly.
Author: Jayani Jayatilake, BA (Soc Sc), M Social Work, AMHSW.
With a Masters degree in Social Work and a strong interest in the cultural considerations in counselling, Jayani considers each individual client to be the expert in their own life. As such, she encourages her clients to take an active role in therapy. By helping them to recognise and draw on their own strengths, resourcefulness and resilience, Jayani supports them to overcome obstacles and create the life they want. Jayani is able to provide English and Sinhalese counselling.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
- American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing