Dissecting anxiety: when worrying becomes persistent
Kym Friese’s monthly mental health column aims to help anyone suffering from any mental health concerns. If this article raises any issues for you please contact the resources at the bottom of this article.
What is anxiety? Essentially, it’s our body’s natural response to fear, alerting us through physical sensations such as dizziness, shortness of breath or shakiness. It’s actually a normal, healthy emotion which operates as our very own inbuilt early warning detection system keeping us alert to any potential threats.
To break this down further, I want you to imagine you are coming home on the train late at night, you’re tired and can’t wait to get home. You pull into your station, there are limited people around and it’s dark. You get off the train, yawning as you walk toward your car just like you have many times before. But as you approach your car, out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of a shadowy figure rapidly moving towards you.
In kicks that early warning detector, whereby at this point you will likely forget how exhausted you feel as you are snapped awake, alert, and adrenaline surges through you to help you manage the perceived threat. As you notice it’s just another person walking to their car from behind you, the threat passes and you slowly begin to relax as the adrenaline fades back to normal levels. This is where anxiety functions effectively.
The Australian Psychological Society describes anxiety as a “natural and usually short-lived reaction to a stressful situation, associated with feelings of worry, nervousness or apprehension”. However, when we experience disproportionate levels of anxiety that impede our ability to undertake daily activities and commitments, we run the risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders occur when instead of feeling anxiety in response to an actual or perceived threat as outlined in the example above, you begin to perceive all circumstances as potentially threatening which is accompanied by, but not limited to, feelings of excessive worry, isolating behaviours and repetitive panic attacks.
Health Direct tells us that “anxiety disorders are the most common group of mental health conditions in Australia and affect one in four Australians at some stage in their life”. Health Direct also points out anxiety disorders are treatable, and that learning about them is “an important first step”.
So, can you self-manage anxiety? Absolutely. I myself use a range of self-management techniques when experiencing mild symptoms which help ground me. But like any strategy, it is about finding one that fits your needs, as we all experience anxiety differently. Personally, I do a lot of journaling to help me break down the situation, identify triggers and develop my own solutions to the situation.
There are also many anxiety management resources accessible online. For example, Beyond Blue offers some simple and easy to apply techniques, and Head to Health offers a range of resources available with a quick search. Just type ‘anxiety’ in the search field and it will bring up a number of resources, some of which are interactive which I find incredibly useful and informative.
Lastly, I encourage you to make an appointment with your GP if you are experiencing persistent anxiety which makes you feel overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted, affects your sleep or causes you to avoid social settings. Your GP will provide you with the supports needed to help you manage your symptoms as required.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:
- Lifeline – 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au/forums
- MensLine – 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet – healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au
By Kym Friese
Kym Friese is a Kamilaroi woman and Accredited Mental Health Social Worker with over 19 years’ experience in Mental Health and Community Services. Her qualifications include BA Health Ageing and Community Services, Masters Social Work, Dip Counselling, Dip Community Services (AOD and Mental Health), and Cert IV Training and Assessment.
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