WHEN IT comes to our physical health, we’re all too comfortable exchanging workout tips and tricks. From our latest deadlift personal best to our fastest ten-kilometre run, we’ll stand around the communal coffee machine in the office, waxing lyrical about our latest gym session. But when it comes to our mental health, for too long we’ve kept mute. Only in recent years has the tide been changing, with more people opening up about their struggles with mental health, anxiety and depression.
The fact is, mental health conditions like anxiety don’t discriminate. In fact, according to Beyond Blue, one in five men will experience an anxiety condition in their lifetime. Findings suggest 22.3 per cent of Australian males aged 16 to 85 have experienced anxiety—or the equivalent of 2.1 million men.
As the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests, an anxiety disorder is defined as one or more of the following: panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. While it’s natural that we all will experience a heightened sense of worry in our lives, it’s important to note that anxiety isn’t merely a case of first-day-at-the-new-job nerves. For sufferers, anxiety can be hard to shake and leave you feeling like you’re stuck in a time-loop where the same thoughts play on loop, inciting feelings of negativity you can’t break free from.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, those feelings of compounding stress, obsessive thoughts and sleeplessness could be signs you’re struggling with anxiety. With mental health something to be championed, here’s everything you need to know about anxiety and the signs you—or someone you know—might be experiencing it.
Is it normal to experience anxiety?
While anxiety is common for people to experience at some point in their life—be it; during a job interview, exam, or public speaking—anxiety that causes an individual significant stress that then makes daily functioning difficult, is something that may require external help. With one in five men experiencing an anxiety condition in their lifetime, it’s a condition that is far more pervasive in society than you might expect.
What causes anxiety?
The causes of anxiety are subjective to the individual and even with extensive research in the field, they aren’t fully understood. For some, it may be a family history that sees them more likely to develop an anxiety disorder, while for others it may be compounding stress. Those who experience problems at work, along with a family or relationship breakdown and uncertainty in other aspects of life may be more susceptible to an anxiety condition.
What are some signs you might be suffering from anxiety?
While there are a number of different ways anxiety can manifest depending on the individual, there are signs to look out for—whether it’s yourself, or someone you know who might be grappling with anxiety. These include:
Avoiding certain situations:
For those experiencing anxiety, certain triggers will likely be avoided at all costs. What is known as avoidance coping refers to choosing your behaviour in an effort to avoid or escape certain thoughts or feelings. Such a technique often backfires however as, by avoiding the cause of your anxiety, it then compounds. Soon, the thing that made you a little bit anxious is causing a full-blown anxiety attack.
As well as draining you of time and energy, avoidance coping doesn’t work and will only serve to amplify the source of your anxiety. It’s helpful to regulate those thoughts you can perceive as distorted or negative.
Obsessive thinking refers to a series of thoughts that almost plays on loop, recurring again and again and often inciting negative feelings or responses. For those suffering from anxiety, obsessive thoughts can be hard to control and can even become all-encompassing, impeding your work and social life. Those who have dealt with obsessive thoughts report feeling powerless to these emotions, and often as we are unable to think about anything else, even our sleep is disrupted.
When you experience obsessive thoughts, it’s important to recognise them. Once you’ve taken stock of the pattern that’s emerged, you can think ‘stop’ when they creep into your head, or try writing them down to better understand what might be triggering them.
While often a result of the other symptoms above, restlessness can occur when anxiety becomes chronic. It can throw out your entire daily routine, impact your sleep schedule, and leave you deprived of necessary hours of rest to help your body refocus. If you’re struggling to switch off at night and can’t seem to sleep, anxiety might be the cause of it.
Anxiety and depression are not mutually exclusive and often, the two mental health conditions go hand-in-hand. With avoidance of certain situations being a sign of anxiety that can lead to social isolation, and obsessive thoughts seeing individuals trapped in a loop of negativity, it’s not uncommon for individuals to then experience feelings of depression.
What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?
People struggling with anxiety can also experience physical symptoms such as panic attacks, shortness of breath, dizziness and sweating. Many often report feelings of ‘butterflies’ or a churning in the stomach, as well as trembling, excessive thirst, and feeling lightheaded.
What are some ways to combat anxiety?
Seek professional help:
First and foremost, if you’re dealing with anxiety it’s important to remember that help is available. By speaking to a professional, you can talk through the various triggers behind your anxiety and work on developing techniques to combat these feelings should anxiety strike. A solutions-based approach to anxiety is always the best foot forward and will ensure you have the toolkit necessary to deal with it should it arise again.
Exercise is also proven to effectively help with anxiety. According to a study published in the National Library of Medicine, those with anxiety tend to be more sedentary and do less intense physical activity, if any. But as scientists have revealed, getting outdoors and moving is the greatest nonmedical solution for anxiety out there as it diverts your focus away from the thoughts or triggers you were otherwise preoccupied with. Exercise also decreases muscle tension, lowering the body’s contribution to feeling anxious, while getting your heart rate up changes brain chemistry, increasing anti-anxiety neurochemicals like serotonin.
Focus on sleep:
Ensuring you get adequate sleep and practising breathing exercises can also help, while others champion meditation and journalling to notice and identify any thoughts that can arise as you then work towards finding the cause and treating the larger issue.
If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or depression, help is available. Contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for 24 hour support, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.