Also known as:
Anxiety is a normal human emotion, but when you’re unable to control it and it starts to disrupt your daily living, that is what’s called an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders are very common in New Zealand, with 1 in 4 people experiencing it at some point during their lifetime.
Anxiety disorders can be treated and managed.
There are a number of different anxiety disorders including:
Generalised anxiety disorder
Social anxiety disorder (fear of social situations)
Phobias (of needles, spiders etc.)
Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces)
Panic disorder (regular panic attacks)
Substance or medication induced anxiety (a side-effect of substance abuse or certain medications)
Anxiety caused by another health condition
What causes anxiety?
There are lots of factors that could play a role in developing anxiety, but the exact cause is still unknown. Some of these factors include personality factors, difficult life experiences or ongoing stressful events, family history, and physical health.
Worrying and the symptoms of anxiety can creep up on you gradually. This can make it hard to know how much worrying is too much.
Some common anxiety symptoms include:
Hot and cold flushes
Tight feeling in the chest or chest pains
Struggling to breathe
Snowballing worries that get bigger and bigger
A racing mind full of thoughts
A constant need to check things are right or clean
Persistent worrying ideas that seem 'silly or crazy' (pōrangi).
Difficulty getting to sleep
Anxiety can usually be managed with psychotherapy, management strategies, self-care or medication in more severe cases.
Often a combination of these treatments will be most effective to manage anxiety disorders.
With some help, people living with anxiety disorders can learn to understand their disorder, and develop techniques to manage and control it. Some of these techniques include:
Learning to tell the difference between normal and abnormal feelings of anxiety
Accepting those normal feelings of anxiety or learning to respond differently to feelings of anxiety
Identifying triggers and dealing with what has created them
Gradually doing the things that cause anxiety rather than avoiding them
For mild symptoms your health professional might suggest lifestyle changes, such as regular physical exercise and reducing your stress levels. You might also like to try online e-therapies, many of which are free, anonymous and easily accessible for anyone with internet access. Where symptoms of anxiety are moderate to severe, psychological and/or medical treatments are likely to be required.
Antidepressants may be used to treat more severe cases of anxiety, particularly panic disorder and social anxiety disorder.
The most common type of antidepressants are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (or SSRIs).
How long does anxiety last?
How long an anxiety disorder lasts will depend on the person and the type of anxiety.
Should I see a doctor?
You should see a doctor if you feel that your anxiety is controlling you and getting in the way of your daily life. Seeking professional help can allow you to take the reins back.
A healthy approach to self-care can be helpful in preventing anxiety from taking over. Some areas to focus on are:
Diet: Too much caffeine can disrupt sleep, increase your heartbeat and make you feel generally on edge, which is not ideal for someone dealing with anxiety. Limiting caffeine, alcohol, sugar and fast-food while increasing your intake of fruit, vegetables and less processed food can help to keep the body and mind balanced.
Exercise: Aerobic exercise boosts serotonin, so it’s a great stress-reliever. Getting your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day is recommended for everyone, but can be particularly helpful for those dealing with anxiety.
Smoking and alcohol: Both of these substances usually heighten the effects of anxiety. Cutting them out completely is recommended. Otherwise, limiting alcohol consumption to 1–2 drinks per day is a good start!
Sleep: Plenty of good, restful sleep allows the body and mind to cope with anxiety better. Having a regular bedtime, avoiding devices before going to sleep and exercising during the day are all good ways to promote better sleep.
Relaxation: Proactively setting aside time to relax can be really beneficial for people with anxiety. Meditation and breathing exercises can be helpful as well as getting out in nature.
Which specialist should I visit?
Mental health counsellor
Clinically reviewed by: Dr Mataroria Lyndon
Date of review: 5th August 2022