Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia according to Beyond Blue and national based surveys. Statistics show that one in four people and one in three women will experience anxiety at some stage throughout their life.1
Although these statistics are alarming, there are many ways to manage anxiety before it spirals out of control. As psychologists we often talk about tuning into our emotions but when it comes to anxiety (and many other psychological conditions) taking a holistic view by observing your physical symptoms and overall health is vital.
Often dubbed the ‘second brain’ the entric nervous system (ENS) aka your gut has been in the spotlight over recent years with researchers finding a profound connection between the brain and the stomach. Jay Pasricha, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology has led the way on research around the entric nervous system with findings showing a correlation between disorders of the gut, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and those of the mind, like anxiety and depression.
Previously, doctors assumed anxiety and depression contributed to gut related conditions however studies now indicate that it could be the other way around. This is because the entric nervous system is thought to send signals to the central nervous system which can trigger fluctuation in mood.2
Regardless of the chicken and egg debate, it’s important to observe and respond to physical symptoms in connection to your emotional and psychological health and seek professional support for both your mind and body.
The way anxiety is experienced differs amongst people, however physical symptoms often include nausea and digestive issues, a racing heart, sweating, insomnia and headaches. Combined with thoughts that are distracting and interfere with the task at hand, anxiety can be debilitating for those experiencing it. Some people with anxiety may develop a panic disorder and experience panic attacks. You can read more about the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks here.
How to treat anxiety
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. Ideally a team of health professionals will work together to deliver a holistic mental health plan that works for the individual.
Also known as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) talk therapy often 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 clinical psychologists who can help manage your anxiety.