All about anxiety: Causes, signs and symptoms

We've all felt that pang of worry or fear as we face a challenging situation, whether it’s stepping up in the workplace or confronting a personal conflict closer to home. It’s part of a natural reaction to the obstacles that are thrown into our path and for that reason, anxiety is an emotion many of us will already be familiar with. For some, however, it can have more debilitating effects.

There are many different types of anxiety disorders and they can affect people in various ways. Treatments are available to help people cope with their anxiety, but even if you haven’t experienced it yourself it can be helpful to know about its causes and symptoms so you can recognise the signs in yourself or a loved one.

What is anxiety and what causes it?

Anxiety is a larger umbrella term for a variety of disorders that cause people to feel nervous, fearful or deeply concerned. Milder forms can be frustrating and uncomfortable to deal with, but more severe anxiety disorders can have an even bigger impact on your life as they have the potential to disrupt your normal routines.

Typically, anxiety is the body’s natural, instinctive reaction to situations where danger is present – for example, if you feel threatened or highly stressed. In moderate amounts it can help us stay alert and adapt to the challenges we need to face, but when it’s constantly experienced it can cause major problems.

There is a difference between the anxiety you might feel before dealing with something challenging or difficult, and the anxiety that can have more far-reaching effects. Normal experiences of anxiety can usually be linked to an identifiable event or issue that a person must face and will subside after the problem has been resolved.

On the other hand, anxiety can become a more serious problem when it starts to interfere with the other areas of your life, from sleeping and eating to your ability to socialise and interact with others in your social circle.

It can be caused by any number of things, from abstract concerns about concepts such as health or personal finances to going through a particularly stressful experience. It can also be linked to specific causes, such as a fear of being judged by others or being separated from something or someone you feel gives you security.

Common signs and symptoms

Anxiety disorders are actually more common than many might think. Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand show Aotearoa has a high prevalence of anxiety, mood and substance abuse disorders. Compared with 15 other countries, only the US exceeds New Zealand in the category of anxiety disorders (18.2 per cent compared to New Zealand’s 14.7 per cent).

Depression and anxiety were more common in women, and all disorders were most prevalent in the 16-24 year old age group.

Anxiety can manifest itself in both physical and emotional ways. You might feel a sudden and intense burst of panic, or like you’ve lost control entirely. It can cause heart palpitations and chest pain, hot flashes or unexpected chills, trembling, shaking, nausea, stomach cramps and even difficulty breathing properly.

Those who have an anxiety disorder may also find they are changing their normal behaviours in order to avoid experiencing or facing a potential trigger, which can lead to significant disturbances in their normal lifestyle.

Different types of anxiety disorders

Experts have identified several distinct types of anxiety disorders. Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterised by constant concern and fear that something bad will happen, and can lead to symptoms such as insomnia and restlessness.

Panic or anxiety attacks are sudden and repeated experiences of deep terror and fear that can lead people to feel shaky, dizzy, nauseous and gasping for breath. These are normally shorter in duration and can be spontaneous or in response to a specific trigger.

Phobias are a response to a specific object or situation, causing people to go out of their way to avoid having to see or deal with it. Social anxiety disorder is linked to fears about being judged negatively by others or feeling humiliated in a public environment – this includes problems such as stage fright.

On the other hand, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes people to feel obsessions or constant worry. To deal with it, people often have to carry out behaviours or actions in a way that feels impossible to control, such as washing their hands or checking locks and switches repetitively.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also cause anxiety in response to a previous trauma. People with PTSD can suffer intense flashbacks and will try to avoid anything that could make them remember the traumatic event.

There are different types of treatment available for anxiety disorders. Self-help or self-coping strategies can be effective, but if your symptoms and concerns have become so significant that they’re taking over your daily routine, it’s important to go to the healthcare professionals for more help.


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Sources (these were the statistics used in the article)


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