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  • Writer's pictureMelinda Brazier

Mental wellbeing series: what is anxiety? 10 symptoms of anxiety

Have you ever thought to yourself, I am feeling really uptight at the moment, I am worrying or stressed out or even panicking. Maybe you feel it is just your personality? It's just who I am. It all sounds incredibly uncomfortable and if it isn't an occasional occurrence, then it begins to feel exhausting, and life can be overwhelming. Up and down like a yoyo. It may even be that this is your subconscious go to. The groove in the record or the well-worn path our minds automatically go.

A myriad of symptoms can present themselves and because our adrenal glands that sit right on top of our kidneys are so good at helping us cope with fear, stress and anxiety, unless we are incredibly aware and in tune with our body's we may not even correlate that those uncomfortable symptoms are related to anxiety. You know that thought when you look back at an extremely stressful period of time and wonder in hindsight how on earth did I get through that ?? thankyou adrenals, you were doing your job. We did get through that stress; however, how well did we get through it?

Thanks to our adrenals that kick in and trigger the fight and flight sympathetic response, it allows us to be hypervigilant. This hypervigilance is a survival, imminent danger response. It redirects more energy to our hearts, brains and skeletal muscle as we prepare to run away from the danger or fight the danger.

We have all heard this before, this is the body's go to which is incredibly effective for keeping us safe.

Our nervous systems are incredible, and we are slowly starting to learn more about how this intricate part of our body also connects with the rest of our body. Furthermore, we now have connections that suggest that our genetics play a role in our stress responses. How much stress our grandparents and parents were under has a direct effect on how our nervous system functions. Furthermore, you may experience anxiety as it may have been modelled to you as a child from a parent or caregiver. Nurture and nature!

The big red flag here is that our nervous system is only designed to run on the sympathetic- fight, flight part of our nervous system for short periods of time.

In this day and age, we are in this hypervigilant state for far too long. We have had fires, Covid, the floods, financial hardships, bigger emotional turmoil living through a pandemic and unable to be or see loved ones or be by their side when they needed us. Job losses, the relentless fear in the community due to the constant media coverage. Home schooling and working full time. Isolation or living with an abusive person in lockdown. There are so many situations that would and did add anxiety into our lives. Everyone trying to adopt new ways of being and living. More and more uncertainty in this post pandemic world. Trying to make sense of all the information thrown at us on a daily basis.

To be honest, most of us were just managing a very hectic busy life already, burning too much nervous energy prior to these big collective changes. We were already on the precipice.

We see this daily with people's health challenges, long term stress and anxiety has crept in and made itself at home in people's lives. This is when our nervous system becomes out of balance or maladaptive. Our body always has a happy medium, a balance, a homeostasis. Stress is a healthy response, it becomes unhealthy when it cannot go back into balance, and we become hypervigilant as our new normal. This however is futile as our bodies cannot sustain this anxiety marathon. Before too long some cracks begin to appear. Exhaustion, fatigue, burn out and lots of health challenges can begin to surface.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

According to the National Institue of Mental Health anxiety symptoms in generalized anxiety disorder are feelings of restlessness, wound up and on edge. Easily fatigued, difficulty concentrating, irritability, inability to control feelings of worry, difficulty with getting to sleep and staying asleep, headaches, unexplained muscle tension, aches and pains and stomach upsets. Sweating, palpitations, urgency to go to the bathroom, even trembling, shaking, dizziness.

This apprehension, fear that can change in intensity. It is persistent in nature and can interfere with daily tasks and activities. It is something that stays around for longer than six months.

How does anxiety appear in our lives?

We can be anxious about a lot of things which can become what we call generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), we can become anxious in social situations which is known as social anxiety, separation anxiety plus panic disorder and others like specific phobias like fear of flying and heights phobias.

According to the World Health Organization in 2019 301million people and 58million children and adolescents were living with anxiety.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released a Mental health and Wellbeing study conducted in 2020-2021. Women have a much higher rate of anxiety and other mental health disorders than men. In particular younger women. Some key statistics were:

  1. Over 2 in 5 Australians aged 16-85yrs of age (that is 43.7% or 6.8 million people) experienced a mental health disorder at some stage of their life.

  2. 1 in 5 had a mental health disorder for 12 months (21.4% or 4.2 million people)

  3. Anxiety was the most common mental health disorder from the people who had a mental health disorder for 12 months at 16.8 % or 3.3 million people.

Anxiety can be a symptom of other disorders as well as a disorder on its own, so it is incredibly important to get a thorough understanding of what is going on for you. Individually we can be very different, it may be part a thyroid problem, PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), ADHD(Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), PMDD(Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), PMS(Premenstrual syndrome) and perimenopause or even low iron levels can all cause anxiety as a symptom.

We need to check everything out and make sure we understand the nature of the anxiety and how it is playing out in your body physically as well as emotionally. Getting some investigations under way with your health practitioner is the best first step to take. Asking why I am anxious is a good starting point to get to the bottom of the cause. This is imperative and many treatments and strategies work for different people. Bringing awareness to when it strikes, what it is about, where in your body do you feel it? Is it around a specific belief or thought?

There are many tools we can use to help work on anxiety and reduce the effects of how debilitating it can be, but the first step is recognizing it. Awareness that you are experiencing it is imperative and the first step to addressing anxiety.

Reach out to those you trust and feel comfortable and safe with for help. Your mental wellbeing is a priority.

For anyone who is having difficulty and needs urgent help, below are some resources taken from the Black Dog Institute Australia

QLife- anonymous and free LGBTI support

Postvention Support | Thirrili- National Indigenous service

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