Anxiety is a natural human response to the perception of a threat. Anxiety manifests itself in many different ways, through our thoughts and feelings as well as through physical sensations. If you are diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, or GAD, you will be experiencing regular and exaggerated worries about a number of different things in your everyday life. Whereas with a phobia or panic disorder you can usually identify specific triggers of your symptoms, with anxiety it is not always easy to pinpoint exactly what is causing the anxiety.

Worrying is a normal part of human experience and occurs for a lot of people in day-to-day life. However, if it impacting your ability to live your life as you want to, it might be time to seek help.

Symptoms of anxiety

It's common to experience anxiety and worry while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life. However, if you are experiencing anxiety, it is likely to be impacting your everyday life. Anxiety is charactersied by worrying about things like health, money, family, work or school, which will dominate your thinking and be out of proportion for the situation.

As there are lots of possible symptoms of anxiety, the problems that you experience with GAD may be different from another person’s experiences with it. You might experience some of the problems listed below, but you may also experience other emotions or effects on your body that aren’t listed.

  • Physical
    • Pins and needles
    • Shallow breathing
    • Feeling restless
    • Panic attacks
    • Feeling sick or dizzy
    • Fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
    • Problems sleeping
    • Sweating and hot flushes
    • Fatigue or exhaustion
    • Muscle tension
  • Cognitive
    • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Worrying about anxiety itself (worrying that you are worrying too much)
  • Emotional
    • Feeling like you are losing touch with reality
    • Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
    • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Behavioral
    • Avoiding everyday situations that are perceived as a threat
    • Not being able to enjoy leisure time
    • Being irritable

Causes of anxiety

It’s difficult to outline exactly what causes anxiety problems, but there are lots of factors involved. This could range from past or childhood experiences as well as current life situations.

Factors that trigger anxiety include:
  • A family history of anxiety
  • Prolonged exposure to a stressful situation
  • Exhaustion
  • Bullying, harassment or abuse
  • Feeling lonely or isolated
  • Homelessness or housing problems

How to look after yourself when living with anxiety

There are many steps you can take that might help with managing and reducing your anxiety; the first step is acknowledging your worries.

It will be difficult to stop worrying when you have anxiety – there may be worries you feel as if you can’t control, situations you are worried about that are out of your control, or you might feel like you need to continue worrying because it feels useful, or that bad things might happen if you stop.

However, there are ways to try and address these worries. These might involve keeping a diary of worries and by writing them down you are able to visually see and understand them. To help you feel that you can control your worries, when they appear during the day, you can postpone thinking about that worry and then set aside a “worry time” during the day to focus on your worries then – this should reassure yourself that you haven’t forgotten to think about them. Talking things through with a person you trust might relieve your worries too. It may be that purely having someone there to listen to you and show they care enough to understand your worries can help.

Looking after your physical health is essential in managing anxiety. Three main factors include getting enough sleep, eating a healthy balanced diet, and lastly, participating in regular physical activity if possible.

Breathing exercises are also a beneficial way to help manage your anxiety and worries. This can help you cope and enhance your ability to feel more in control, and may also help with some of the physical symptoms such as headaches and muscle tension.

How to support a loved one experiencing anxiety

If you have a friend or family member that is experiencing episodes of anxiety it can be difficult to know the best way to help them.

  • Support

    One of the things we tend to do when we see our loved ones suffering is helping them to avoid the situations they find fearful. For example, if your loved one is particularly worried about driving on the freeway, you might try and help them using a different route when travelling with them, to avoid the freeway. While this will help them feel less anxious in the short-term, it can help maintain their anxiety. While it is important that you don’t try to force them into uncomfortable situations before they are ready, being aware of how you might be inadvertently helping them maintain their anxiety, can be useful.

  • When in doubt, ask

    Anxiety can be a very varied disorder, manifesting in very different ways depending on the person. There is no one size fits all when it comes to anxiety. It can be really helpful to find out as much as possible about your loved ones’ personal experience with anxiety, how it affects their life and if there is anything in particular that they would find helpful. If you are respectful and understanding about the situation and make sure they are comfortable talking to you about it, you might be surprised by how many small ways you can have a positive impact on their anxiety.

  • Be patient and understanding

    Quite often someone suffering from anxiety won’t be able to fully explain what is wrong, or why they are feeling the way they do. It’s incredibly important to be patient with someone that is dealing with anxiety and take things at whatever pace is comfortable for them. Take the time to sit and talk calmly with them, and reassure them instead of dismissing their anxiety episode. This can go a huge way in relieving someone’s symptoms. Remember that someone with anxiety is often unable to control their worries, and it isn’t just a case of ‘snapping out of it’.

If you are in crisis, or need help dealing with one - do not use this site. For immediate help, please call the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or text HOME to 741741.