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Updated: Feb 4

Anxiety is a normal, healthy, and temporary psychological, physiological and behavioural state produced in relation to an anticipated threat within our environment that is either known or unknown such as taking an exam, giving a talk or presentation. With anxiety we tend to get the "what ifs" as we search for the potential danger. This is healthy as it can produce a beneficial response to a situation like keeping us focussed and on track in instances like studying for the exam, preparing well for a talk or presentation.

Although it may feel like it, anxiety is not fear. They both produce very similar physical responses in the body. The difference between anxiety and fear is that anxiety is the response to an anticipated threat that is known or unknown and fear is the response to a known, unavoidable danger that is life threatening.

The main function of both anxiety and fear is to act as a signal to trigger appropriate adaptive responses that enable us to adapt to the environment and/or survive.

Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia.

When anxiety is constant and intense it can be very debilitating and dysfunctional. It can interfere with the ability to cope successfully with various life challenges and/or stressful events, and alter body conditions (for example, forming ulcers). It can prevent us engaging in social situations, work or study. When we are anxious we tend to worry which normally helps an individual prepare for a perceived future threat and assist in helping us find a solution to the perceived threat. However, worry can become compulsive and people may find they feel they do not have control over their worry.


Physical symptoms of anxiety can include: a rapid heart rate, feeling nervous, restless or tense, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, goosebumps, dry mouth, tightness in the chest, trembling, feeling hot or sweating, upset stomach, butterflies in stomach, and lethargy.

Psychological symptoms can include having a sense of doom, feeling overwhelmed, feeling out of control, feeling detached from your body, unable to think clearly, frequent and excessive worry, specific fears or phobias.

Behavioural symptoms can include: running away, hiding, freezing, clenching fists, violent behaviour, unable to sit still, social withdrawal, easily startled, difficulty performing tasks, alcohol and drug use, procrastination, avoidance, difficulty making decisions.


The causes of somebody developing an anxiety disorder are not fully understood. However, risk factors that may increase a person's chances of developing an anxiety disorder have been identified and include: childhood trauma (directly experiencing or witnessing), trauma in adulthood, stress due to an illness (health condition or serious illness causing significant worry about treatment or future), stress build-up, personality type, other mental health disorders, having blood relatives with anxiety disorder, drug or alcohol use or withdrawal.


There are three broad categories of treatment for anxiety, which include: psychological treatments (talking therapies); physical treatments (medications); self-help and alternative therapies.

Psychological therapies are most effective treatment for anxiety and relapse prevention over the long term.

Everybody is unique with their own life experiences and there are many reasons for a person developing an anxiety disorder.

Finding out the cause of your anxiety and how an experience or experiences may have shaped thinking and behaviour in an attempt to cope with the discomfort of anxiety will help in understanding how it keeps happening. Learning new ways to challenge and direct our thinking and behaviour will assist in coping with life's challenges and prevention of its return.

There are a vast array of psychological treatments for anxiety. A few of these include: cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapy (behaviour therapy), interpersonal therapy (IPT), mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, positive psychology, psychotherapies, and counselling.


When looking for a therapist it is essential to find somebody who you feel comfortable enough with to speak openly and honestly. A good working relationship with your therapist is one of the main components of effective therapy. Just like meeting people in general, if you don't feel as though you are the right fit for each other - move on. There is a therapist out there for you.



Black Dog Institute


Bruce Y. Lee, 2017, Here Are The 27 Different Human Emotions, According To A Study, Forbes

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