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What causes anxiety?

Anxiety can be caused by a number of things that present as risk factors contributing to the development of an anxiety condition. Such factors include a genetic predisposition, stress and lifestyle, chronic health conditions, substance abuse and mental health conditions just to name a few.

Everyone is different in how they experience anxiety and what might provoke the onset of anxiety or a panic attack, which is why it is important to recognise your individual signs and symptoms and seek professional help.

What is a genetic predisposition to anxiety?

Sometimes anxiety or other mental health problems run in the family therefore giving you a genetic predisposition to it. This is not to say you will definitely have an anxiety condition if your grandmother did but if you are experiencing the symptoms of anxiety and you know it runs in the family, it would be a good idea to speak to a professional about it. You may also consider your personality type as research shows certain personality types are at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Perfectionists, people who like to be in control or those who lack self-esteem sometimes develop anxiety disorders at various stages of their life.

Can stress bring on anxiety?

Yes, ongoing stress, such as work related stress; marriage or relationship stress or traumatic life events may lead to the development of an anxiety condition.  It is important to recognise the stressor and manage the symptoms by talking to friends, family and a professional.

Can chronic health cause anxiety?

Chronic health like diabetes, heart disease, asthma and other major physical illnesses are challenged to face the reality of the disease and often feel anxiety as an effect of the disease. Faced with problems that the disease places on everyday living such as monitoring and self-treatment and the effect it can have on relationships. Poor sleep, lack of self-confidence and low self esteem as a result of the disease, can also contribute to anxiety.

How do drugs and alcohol effect anxiety?

Managing anxiety can be difficult and some anxiety sufferers turn to alcohol or drugs to manage the symptoms. Unfortunately, the immediate effect of the substance that may seem effective, they often lead to long term addiction or substance abuse and may also aggravate the condition.

How to deal with anxiety

It is difficult to know how to deal with anxiety, especially when it strikes as a panic attack or when it is mistaken for stress. Anxiety is a term which describes the feelings people experience when faced with threat or danger or when stressed. Often people will feel upset, uncomfortable or tense. Anxiety can sometimes be triggered by experiences such as job loss, relationship breakdown, illness, accidents or the death of someone close. In these situations, anxiety is usually experienced for a limited time.

An anxiety disorder is defined when anxiety is persistent, out of proportion to reality and significantly interferes with a person’s daily life. An anxiety disorder can be typically accompanied by intense uncontrollable worry, avoidance of real or perceived anxiety provoking situations and panic attacks. Speaking to a psychologist may help you deal with anxiety by equipping you with strategies to manage the symptoms and keep panic attacks under control.

Why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy works for Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is an evidenced-based form of therapy that focuses on changing belief and thinking patterns that result in certain behaviours, namely anxiety. CBT is based on the understanding that thinking negatively is a habit and like any other bad habit, it can be modified.

So in treating anxiety, our psychologists help people identify when their thought patterns are negative and replace them with more helpful thoughts, resulting in more positive behavioural outcomes.

Part of cognitive behavioural therapy in treating anxiety is monitoring your ‘self talk’ and testing realities of negative talk by evaluating the thoughts that lead to unhelpful fears and beliefs.  For example, people who suffer from anxiety may avoid friends or social situations because of negative beliefs. The treatment focuses on questioning the negative thoughts and beliefs (like, my friends find me boring) that lead to the feelings of anxiousness in social situations.

Finally, CBT not only helps you understand, manage and challenge thought and behaviour patterns but can also provide you with a range of  useful and practical strategies to enhance your productivity, well-being and your ability to cope with various situations in everyday life.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or noticing these symptoms in someone you love, we have a diverse team of Brisbane psychologists who can help manage your anxiety. Visit the Brisbane Psychologists page to read about our team and their areas of specialisation.

Why do we spend so much time worrying?

By Clinical Psychologist Elizabeth Galt

Worry is something that almost everyone will do from time to time. However, sometimes people find that their worry has become a large and interfering part of their daily life. Read More

Anxiety Disorders in Elderly Australians

Contrary to common belief, anxiety in older people is not normal or par for the course and should not be ignored. An estimated 10–15% of older Australians who live in the community experience anxiety or
depression (Haralambous et al. 2009). However, research has shown that certain sub-groups of the
older population are at higher risk of experiencing poor mental health. This is likely due to isolation, standards of residential living and associated degenerative conditions like dementia.

Studies show that anxiety disorders are more common in older women than men and that in general, anxiety disorders are more likely to occur in younger adults unless the older adult has a past history of anxiety.

Anxiety is not a normal part of aging and should be given appropriate clinical attention if symptoms of anxiety present in an older person. Anxiety disorders typically occur in conjunction with other mental and physical illness and commonly alcohol abuse which can make it difficult to diagnose. Read More

Panic Disorder

Psychologists treat the emotional side of panic attacks
By Kathryn Smith

Perhaps the most prevalent psychological conditions fall under the umbrella of anxiety. Panic Disorder is one of the most common presentations with many individuals diagnosed with the disorder also meeting criteria for Agoraphobia. A diagnosis of Agoraphobia is given if (a) the patient reports anxiety about places or situations where escape may be difficult or embarrassing or in which help may not be immediately available, and (b) these situations are avoided or endured with marked distress. Patients who present with panic attacks may appear as composed, competent individuals with full and fulfilling lives, however, beneath the surface they are enduring extreme discomfort and are often struggling to keep going. A patient may be experiencing a panic attack if they report discrete periods of intense fear in which 4 or more of the following anxiety symptoms develop abruptly and reach a peak within 10 minutes:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Shortness of breath or smothering
  • Feeling of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded or faint
  • Feelings of unreality or being detachment
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Panic Disorder is diagnosed if panic attacks are:

Recurrent and unexpected, have been followed by 1 month of either persistent concern about additional attacks, worry about the implications of the attack, or a significant change in behaviour related to the attacks
 not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or general medical condition
. Treatment of Panic Disorder may require a combination of pharmacological and psychological treatment. Pharmacological treatment has come to include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic antidepressants, high-potency benzodiazapines, as well as certain anticonvulsants.

Psychological treatment focuses on the emotional side of panic targeting the anxiety that builds in anticipation of an attack or leads to agoraphobic avoidance. Psychologists work with the cognitive and behavioural features of the disorder in an attempt to deal with the triggers of physiological reactions. By addressing the underlying cognitive features, the cycle of anxiety is frequently broken and the individual is able to learn skills to better manage high anxiety.

There is ongoing debate about whether treatment should focus initially on cognitive-behavioural or pharmacological approaches, however, a combination of treatments has been well documented to lead to greater maintenance of good treatment results. Thoughtful application of the available therapies alone, or in combination may enable individuals to experience resolution of disabling distress, regain confidence, and compensate for a vulnerability to anxiety.

Self-Help Resources for Patients
Aisbett, B. (1995). Living With It: A Survivor’s Guide to Panic Attacks, Harper & Collins Publishers, Sydney.

Beckfield, D.F. (1994). Master Your Panic and Take Back Your Life!, Impact Publishers, California

Read More

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