This page contains information about anxiety disorders, including how they are diagnosed and treated, and anxiety support. You may find this helpful if you are affected by anxiety or are supporting a whānau member who is.
- It is normal to feel anxious at times but it can become overwhelming and develop into an anxiety disorder.
- Anxiety symptoms include dizziness, breathlessness, sweating and avoiding certain situations.
- You can recover from anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety treatment includes therapies, medication and self-care practices.
What are anxiety disorders?
We all experience anxious feelings but sometimes they can be overwhelming. We may feel uneasy or a continuing sense of dread, panicky and frightened.
While some level of anxiety is normal, it can be too high for us to get on with everyday life and become an anxiety disorder.
What causes anxious feelings?
Anxious feelings result from our body’s natural responses to danger or perceived danger. While our ancestors had to worry about life-threatening dangers such as being chased by wild animals, our dangers are often threatening.
Despite that, our brain reacts in the same way it used to. When it senses danger (real or perceived), it causes symptoms and feelings that we would describe as anxiety.
What causes anxiety disorders?
The causes of anxiety disorders are complicated. Possible causes may include:
- Environmental stressors
- Medical factors
- Brain chemistry
- Substance withdrawal
Types and Symptoms
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
We feel the effects of anxiety in three main ways:
- Physical effects:
- Racing or pounding heart
- Shaking or trembling
- Chest pain or tightness
- Nausea and stomach pain
- Repetitive thoughts that often escalate
- Fixed views of a situation, that may have little relation to reality
- We withdraw or avoid situations
What are the different types of anxiety disorders?
The most common types of anxiety disorder include:
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Specific phobia
- Agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder or social phobia
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
This chronic disorder involves excessive, long-lasting anxiety and worries about non-specific life events, objects, and situations. It is the most common anxiety disorder but people with the disorder are not always able to identify the cause of their anxiety.
The symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) will often include the following:
- Restlessness and a feeling of being on edge
- Uncontrollable feelings of worry
- Increased irritability
- Concentration difficulties
- Sleep difficulties, such as problems falling or staying asleep
GAD may also show up as vague worry or more severe anxiety that disrupts daily life.
Panic disorder causes brief or sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension. These attacks can lead to shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and breathing difficulties.
Panic attacks tend to occur and escalate rapidly, peaking after 10 minutes. However, a panic attack might last for hours.
This disorder usually occurs after frightening experiences or prolonged stress, but may also occur without a trigger.
A phobia is an irrational fear and involves avoiding a particular object or situation. Because phobias have a specific cause, they are not like other anxiety disorders.
Whilst a person make know their phobia is illogical, they can’t control their anxious feelings around it.
Agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder & social phobia
These can involve fear and avoidance of places, events, or situations from which it may be difficult to escape, or in which help would not be available if trapped. This can also include fear of negative judgment from others in social situations, or of public embarrassment.
Social anxiety disorder includes a range of feelings, such as stage fright, a fear of intimacy, and anxiety around humiliation and rejection. This can result in people avoiding public situations and human contact so much that everyday living becomes very difficult.
Separation anxiety disorder
This involves high levels of anxiety after separation from a person or place that provides feelings of security or safety. Separation might sometimes result in panic symptoms.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that may trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
Treatment and Self-Care
How are anxiety disorders treated?
Anxiety disorders can be treated with a combination of therapies and medication.
You can support anxiety management with several types of medication that control some of the physical and mental symptoms. For example, antidepressants, benzodiazepines, tricyclics, and beta-blockers.
Therapies for anxiety disorders
Psychological counselling is a common way of treating anxiety and this can include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, or a combination of therapies.
Can you treat anxiety at home?
In some cases, you can treat an anxiety disorder at home without clinical supervision. However, this may not be effective for severe or long-term anxiety disorders.
How can I manage my anxiety disorder?
There are things you can do to help you cope with mild or short-term anxiety disorders, including:
- Stress management
Learning to manage stress can reduce anxiety triggers. Make sure you oorganise any upcoming pressures and deadlines. In addition, compile lists to make daunting tasks more manageable and make sure you take time off from study or work.
- Relaxation techniques
Simple activities can help soothe the mental and physical signs of anxiety. For example, meditation, deep breathing exercises, long baths, resting in the dark and yoga.
Physical exertion can improve self-image and release chemicals in the brain that trigger positive feelings.
- Support networks
Talking with supportive people, such as a family member or friend, can help you manage anxiety. Similarly, you may find support group services helpful, which may be available in your local area and online.
An exercise to lower your anxiety
This exercise will help reduce your anxiety levels by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones:
- Make a list of the negative thoughts that might be cycling as a result of anxiety.
- Write down another list next to it that contains positive, believable thoughts to replace them.
- Use this list to help you turn your negative thoughts into more positive ones when you feel anxious.
Creating a mental image of conquering a specific fear can also provide benefits if your anxiety symptoms have a specific cause (such as a phobia).
Can you prevent anxiety disorders?
There are ways to reduce the risk of anxiety disorders. Firstly, it is important to remember that anxious feelings are a natural factor of daily life. Experiencing them does not always mean you have an anxiety disorder.
You can take the following steps to help manage anxious emotions:
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, tea, sugar and chocolate
- Before using over-the-counter or herbal remedies, check with a doctor or pharmacist for any chemicals that may make anxiety symptoms worse.
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Keep a regular sleep pattern
- Avoid alcohol, cannabis, and other recreational drugs
How can I support someone who has an anxiety disorder?
The first step to supporting a loved one experiencing anxiety is realising it manifests in different ways.
It is best to work in partnership with your family member to understand how their anxiety shows up. Then you can find ways to make use of any insight they have into their anxiety.
- You don’t have to have all the answers
- Just be present and listen
- Offer support, but don’t take over
- If someone has a more serious anxiety problem, seek professional guidance.
- Take care of yourself too
Our self-care and mindfulness guides contain ways to help improve your wellbeing whilst supporting a loved one experiencing anxiety.
How Yellow Brick Road can help you
Formerly Supporting Families NZ, we’re Yellow Brick Road.
Every day we set out to ensure whānau feel listened to, supported, equipped and ultimately confident to overcome the challenges they face.
If you are concerned about a whānau member experiencing anxiety, our whānau support workers can help you by providing support, information, education and advocacy services, such as:
- Listening to your concerns and questions
- Helping you create an action plan that supports you and your loved one throughout their recovery journey
- Providing books, articles and information about locally available services
- Support groups
Our services are free and confidential. Contact us today to find out more.
Useful anxiety websites
Anxiety Trust NZ provides treatment and support for people with anxiety-related conditions and their families in New Zealand.
This website provides resources to help you understand depression and anxiety:
A free online interactive game to help rangatahi cope with depression and anxiety.
The Health Navigator NZ website contains trustworthy and useful self-help resources about anxiety, including mobile phone apps for anxiety:
The Kidshealth website has anxiety resources to help tamariki and rangatahi:
The Mental Health Foundation website has free anxiety and phobia resources, including:
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