Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.

Charles Spurgeon

Understanding anxiety disorders

Feeling anxious sometimes is a normal and healthy response. A bit of anxiety can actually help us to be alert and do things well.

However, if we become too anxious that it becomes so overwhelming or affects your day-to-day life, then this may indicate an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders are common. Around 1 in 3 of us will have an anxiety disorder diagnosed at some point in our lives, making anxiety disorders the most common mental health problem in Australia.


Who gets anxiety disorders?

Many people start to experience anxiety disorders in their teens. Anyone can get an anxiety disorder, but it does tend to happen more commonly in women and girls.

Other contributing factors include having a family history of mental health issues. Anxiety disorders can be more common in people who have experienced neglect or abuse as children or adults, but an anxiety disorder can still happen without this occurring.

Sometimes experiencing stressful circumstances over a sustained period of time, which may involve relationships, home and work, can lead to excessive worry that develops into an anxiety disorder.

What’s it like to have an anxiety disorder?

Occasional anxiety about a particular situation is perfectly normal. Someone with an anxiety disorder, on the other hand, experiences excessive and long-lasting feelings of worry and unease more than most people would in the same situation.

With an anxiety disorder, you may experience the following:

  • A physical response to anxiety – such as feeling panicked, sick, shaky, sweating or having difficulty breathing.
  • An avoidance strategy where you might go to extremes to avoid being confronted by a situation that could cause anxiety.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are different types of anxiety disorders, the main ones being:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with generalised anxiety disorder often have excessive worries about a range of everyday things, such as money, work, health, and family. They often will worry that terrible things might happen even though there may be no real reason to think so and find it hard to stop worrying even when it is negatively impacting their day-to-day life. They may seek reassurance from others or avoid doing things as a way of trying to deal with their worries. These excessive worries may be accompanied by difficulty sleeping or concentrating, fatigue, muscle tension or headaches.

Social Anxiety Disorder

People with social anxiety disorder often worry about being in social settings where they fear people could notice their anxiety or that they might do something embarrassing. They will avoid such social situations due to their anxiety.

Some situations that can cause people with social anxiety disorder to feel anxious include meeting new people, speaking in front of others, catching public transport or being watched eating or drinking in front of others. It’s important to note that being normally shy is not the same as having social anxiety disorder.

Specific Phobia

A person with a specific phobia has what is considered an exaggerated fear response toward a certain thing or circumstance that can cause them difficulties in their day-to-day life. Examples of phobias about things can include flying in aeroplanes, animals (like spiders or snakes), heights or getting an injection.

Panic Disorder

Someone with panic disorder experiences sudden and unexpected panic attacks that are recurrent and accompanied by physical symptoms of anxiety (as outlined above) and then can worry a lot about having more panic attacks.

Conditions that are related to anxiety disorders include PTSD and OCD.


Diagnosis of anxiety disorders

Where ongoing anxiety is causing distress or disrupting your life, it is important to go and see your doctor to determine if you have an anxiety disorder.

The diagnosis of an anxiety disorder might be made by a GP, psychiatrist, or psychologist. It can involve talking to you about how you have been feeling and a physical health check. In some cases, symptoms may be caused by other factors which need to be ruled out (for example, heart or thyroid issues), so some other tests might be ordered.

Treatment and management of anxiety disorders

Depending on the type and severity of the anxiety disorder, an integrative approach can be used to help treat the condition.

Conventional treatments for anxiety disorders

Psychological therapy

The recommended treatment for anxiety disorders includes psychological therapy, with the best type of psychological treatment called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

CBT includes learning about anxiety and how the brain handles anxiety. This type of therapy allows you to learn how to challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.


Where psychological treatment hasn’t worked, or anxiety is severe, you might be recommended medication as well, such as antidepressants. Antidepressants can work well in the treatment of anxiety disorders as well as in depression.

Complementary treatments for anxiety disorders

An integrative management plan for anxiety disorders may combine conventional treatment with complementary strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, nutritional supplementation, and optimisation of healthy lifestyle factors, including exercise, diet, and sleep.

Recovery from anxiety disorders

Most people with anxiety disorders will improve with the right information, treatment, and support. Many people with anxiety disorders recover completely and stay well. Getting the right treatment can help you live a life that is no longer being controlled by anxiety and get you to a place where you can do what you need and want to do.