Anxiety is a normal part of living, everyone experiences it at some time, and in fact it directly affects about 15% of our population right this minute.

Anxiety arises from our natural fight or flight response when we believe we are faced with danger. As such it is part of a response by our bodies to prepare us to act quickly and either confront the danger – or to just get out of its way! Sometimes however this response triggers when in fact there is no real danger, just the perception of your not being safe. If this happens occasionally and it doesn’t feel overwhelming and it doesn’t lead you to avoid situations then it may not be compromising your life very much.

For some people anxiety becomes their regular response to everyday living situations and so much of life can become really challenging. For example they may not feel safe in crowds, or may develop obsessive compulsive thought and behaviours, or have panic attacks in public places and may struggle to even leave home. With anxiety it can become difficult to make decisions but easy to ruminate on issues and to engage in worst case scenario thinking to the point of feeling completely overwhelmed.

There are degrees of anxiety and these range from mild to severe. The level of anxiety, your experience, the degree of discomfort or even pain you feel and anxiety’s negative effects on your life will determine how and when you seek help.

How you ‘got’ anxiety will also vary from person to person. You may have a genetic ‘pre-disposition’ towards it. This might lie dormant in you until it is triggered by perhaps an early childhood environment with anxious parents or even through the wear and tear of daily living. With or without your having any pre-disposition, you might find that a major trauma, disease, loss or unfortunate choices you make in life might leave you feeling unsafe and thus you may become anxious about things you would previously have been able to cope with.

There are many individual anxiety diagnoses that seek to more precisely describe an individual experience of anxiety. Most commonly agoraphobia, generalised anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and social anxiety. There are many others. There are also specific phobias such as a fear of spiders, or heights or flying.

Untreated, anxiety, especially if has risen to moderate levels or beyond, can just continue to build, possibly into a crisis and may go on to become depression. Recovery from anxiety is very realistic and achieving this can be approached in a number of ways depending on the severity of your anxiety, where you live, what you want to change and other factors.

There are many ways you get help for anxiety, your doctor for example, or if you are living in Canterbury, NZ, you can contact us on 03 365 9479 or reception@mhaps.org.nz

Many of our staff have their own lived experience of anxiety and people find this helpful because they feel readily understood and our staff are knowledgeable about anxiety and how and where to get help.

For more detailed information about anxiety try these links:

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

We all worry. Relationships, deadlines, being on time to an appointment – you name it, there’s plenty in life to worry about. But those with GAD experience persistent, excessive and unrealistic worry that goes on every day, possibly all day. They feel it’s beyond their control and can’t be turned ‘off.’ This exaggerated, unrelenting worrying interferes with every-day living. Physical symptoms can include restlessness, irritability, muscle tension, fatigue and difficulty sleeping or concentrating.

People with GAD often expect the worst, even when there is no good reason for any concern. The excessive worrying is often about health, family, money or work. The worrying is hard to control, and occurs on more days than not for at least six months.

Generalised anxiety disorder can affect all areas of life, including social, work, school and family. According to a national survey conducted by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, seven out of 10 people with GAD agreed that their chronic anxiety had an impact on their relations with spouses/significant others and two thirds reported that GAD had a negative effect on their friendships.

The exact cause of GAD is not known. Scientists believe that biological factors, family background and life experiences are all involved. Stress, even the stress of positive events, such as buying a new house or getting married, can trigger symptoms in individuals predisposed to GAD.

Fortunately, most individuals who seek treatment see significant improvement and enjoy a better quality of life. It is important to remember that there is no single ‘right’ treatment and what works for one person may not be the best choice for someone else. A course of treatment should be tailored to your individual needs. Ask your doctor to explain why a particular type of treatment is being recommended, what other options are available and what you need to do to fully participate in your recovery.

If you’re struggling with worry or you’ve been diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, or have good reason to believe that this condition best describes your experience of anxiety, then talk to our peer support team here at MHAPS.

 

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

We all have habits, patterns and routines that help us stay clean, healthy and safe. We wash our hands before eating. We lock the doors and turn off the oven before leaving the house. Humming a favourite song while working, reading before bedtime or laying out clothes for the next day, may be comforting rituals.

But individuals suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) become hung up or stuck on seemingly senseless, irrational thoughts (obsessions), patterns and routines (compulsions).

They recognise their thoughts and behaviours as irrational and senseless, but feel unable to stop them. Some spend hours at a time performing complicated rituals involving hand-washing, counting or checking in order to ward off persistent, unwelcome thoughts, feelings or images. Others live in terror that they will accidentally do something wrong, such as harm someone, blurt out an improper statement or throw something out by mistake.

Obsessions and rituals can interfere substantially with a person’s normal routine, schoolwork, job, family or social activities. Several hours each day may be spent focusing on obsessive thoughts and performing seemingly senseless rituals. Trying to concentrate on normal daily activities can be difficult. From a sense of shame people with OCD will often go to extreme lengths to hide their behaviour, even from friends and loved ones. If left untreated, OCD can take over one’s life.

No one really knows what causes OCD but growing evidence suggests that OCD results from abnormalities in the brain. Environmental factors could also play a role. OCD appears to run in families and may have a genetic link. OCD seems to run in families, so it is not surprising when a child with one or both parents who have OCD begins showing symptoms. OCD can make it difficult for a child to complete tasks like homework and household chores. Relationships with peers, siblings and parents can become strained or problematic. In addition, children with OCD are prone to headaches, stomach aches and other stress-related ailments.

Fortunately, most individuals who seek treatment see significant improvement and enjoy a better quality of life. It is important to remember that there is no single ‘right’ treatment and what works for one person may not be the best choice for someone else. A course of treatment should be tailored to your individual needs. Ask your doctor to explain why a particular type of treatment is being recommended, what other options are available and what you need to do to fully participate in your recovery.

If you’re struggling with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours or you’ve been diagnosed with this condition best describes your experience of anxiety, then talk to our peer support team here at MHAPS.

 

Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia

We’ve all experienced that gut-wrenching fear when suddenly faced with a threatening or dangerous situation. Crossing the street as a car shoots out of nowhere, losing a child in the playground or hearing someone scream ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre. The momentary panic sends chills down our spines, causes our hearts to beat wildly, our stomachs to knot and our minds to fill with terror. When the danger passes, so do the symptoms. We’re relieved that the dreaded terror didn’t happen and we move on.

But now imagine standing in line in a grocery store talking with a neighbour when suddenly, out of the blue, you feel as if you’re in the throes of an impending disaster. Your heart is pounding out of your chest, you feel tingly, sweaty and light-headed. You are convinced you’re going to pass out, lose your mind, make a fool of yourself, or, perhaps, even die. Then, as quickly as the feelings came on, they pass. You’ve had a panic attack. You’re exhausted, confused and wondering, “What if it happens again?” People who experience spontaneous, seemingly out-of-the- blue panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of it happening again have a serious, yet treatable condition called panic disorder. The attacks, which develop abruptly and reach a peak within a few minutes, occur unexpectedly, sometimes even while the person is asleep.

Some peoples’ fear of having panic attacks becomes panic disorder and they begin avoiding places or situations where they previously had a panic attack, in anticipation of it happening again. Typically they avoid public places where immediate escape would be difficult, such as shopping malls, public transportation or large sports arenas.

About one in three people with panic disorder develops agoraphobia. Some become “territory-bound,” using a fixed route between home and work or always have a “safe person” accompany them places. Others are only comfortable venturing out by themselves. In extreme cases, people with agoraphobia may not leave the house, or do so only if absolutely necessary. Their world may become smaller and smaller.

Fortunately, most individuals who seek treatment see significant improvement and enjoy a better quality of life. It is important to remember that there is no single ‘right’ treatment and what works for one person may not be the best choice for someone else. A course of treatment should be tailored to your individual needs. Ask your doctor to explain why a particular type of treatment is being recommended, what other options are available and what you need to do to fully participate in your recovery.

If you’re struggling with panic attacks or you’ve been diagnosed with either panic disorder or agoraphobia, or have good reason to believe that these conditions best describe your experience of anxiety, then talk to our peer support team here at MHAPS.

 

Social Anxiety

Everyone can relate to feeling anxious before giving a presentation, asking someone out on a date or going on a job interview. Butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, pounding heart – all of these are normal feelings when confronting a new or intimidating social situation. But for the more than 200,000 New Zealanders who experience Social Anxiety (also known as social phobia), the intense fear of being scrutinised and negatively evaluated by others is so severe that they literally become ‘sick with fear.’ This can happen in even the most seemingly non-threatening day-to-day situations, such as ordering food in a restaurant, signing one’s name in public or making a phone call.

Though they recognise that the fear is excessive and unreasonable, people with Social Anxiety feel powerless against their anxiety. They are terrified that they will act in a way that will be embarrassing or humiliating. The anxiety interferes significantly with their daily routine, occupational performance or social life. Physical symptoms of Social Anxiety include, blushing, profuse sweating, trembling, nausea, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness and headaches. It can disrupt family life, reduce self-esteem and limit work efficiency. For some, it can be socially and economically devastating. It may make it difficult to complete school, interview and obtain jobs and create and maintain friendships and romantic partnerships.

Social Anxiety may be selective. A person may have an intense fear of a single circumstance such as giving a speech, talking to a salesperson or making a phone call but be perfectly comfortable in other social settings. Others may have a more generalised form of Social Anxiety. They become anxious in a variety of routine activities in which their performance might be observed. For example, initiating or maintaining a conversation with strangers or people in authority, participating in meetings or classes or attending parties or dating.

The exact cause is unknown, although studies suggest that biological, genetic and environmental factors play a role. Social Anxiety usually begins during early to mid-teens, sometimes emerging out of a childhood history of shyness. It appears to run in families and is more common in women than in men.

Fortunately, most individuals who seek treatment see significant improvement and enjoy a better quality of life. It is important to remember that there is no single ‘right’ treatment and what works for one person may not be the best choice for someone else. A course of treatment should be tailored to your individual needs. Ask your doctor to explain why a particular type of treatment is being recommended, what other options are available and what you need to do to fully participate in your recovery.

If you’re struggling with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours or you’ve been diagnosed with this condition best describes your experience of anxiety, then talk to our peer support team here at MHAPS.

 

Specific Phobia

The term “phobia” refers to a group of anxiety symptoms brought on by certain objects or situations.

A specific phobia is a lasting and unreasonable fear caused by the presence or thought of a specific object or situation that usually poses little or no actual danger. Exposure to the object or situation brings about an immediate reaction, causing the person to endure intense anxiety or to avoid the object or situation entirely. The distress associated with the phobia and/or the need to avoid the object or situation can significantly interfere with the person’s ability to function. Adults with a specific phobia recognise that the fear is excessive or unreasonable, yet are unable to overcome it.

There are different types of specific phobias, based on the object or situation feared, including:

  • Animal phobias -include the fear of dogs, snakes, insects, or mice.
  • Situational phobias -involve a fear of specific situations, such as flying, riding in a car or on public transportation, driving, going over bridges or in tunnels, or of being in a closed-in place, like an elevator.
  • Natural environment phobias -examples include the fear of storms, heights, or water.
  • Blood-injection-injury phobias – involve a fear of being injured, of seeing blood or of invasive medical procedures, such as blood tests or injections.
  • Other phobias include a fear of falling down, a fear of loud sounds, and a fear of costumed characters, such as clowns.

Symptoms of specific phobias may include:

  • Excessive or irrational fear of a specific object or situation.
  • Avoiding the object or situation or enduring it with great distress.
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety or a panic attack, such as a pounding heart, nausea or diarrhoea, sweating, trembling or shaking, numbness or tingling, problems with breathing (shortness of breath), feeling dizzy or lightheaded, feeling like you are choking.
  • Anticipatory anxiety, which involves becoming nervous ahead of time about being in certain situations or coming into contact with the object of your phobia.
  • Children with a specific phobia may express their anxiety by crying, clinging to a parent, or throwing a tantrum.

The exact cause of specific phobias is not known, but most appear to be associated with a traumatic experience or a learned reaction. For example, a person who has a frightening or threatening experience with an animal, such as an attack or being bitten, can develop a specific phobia. Witnessing a traumatic event in which others experience harm or extreme fear can also cause a specific phobia, as can receiving information or repeated warnings about potentially dangerous situations or animals.

If you’re struggling with a phobia and the descriptions above best describe your experience of anxiety, or you’ve been diagnosed with this condition, then talk to our peer support team here at MHAPS.