What is anxiety?
We have all heard about anxiety, and for good reason: Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health condition in Australia. Feelings of anxiety or worry however are present in all of us and it is important to know that they can impact our wellbeing well before they grow into a fullblown disorder.
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about a situation, usually in the future. Short-term anxiety and worry may occur when we are faced with a stressful situation and usually stops once the situation has passed. We may even experience motivating anxiety in situations like public speaking or taking an exam, which can be motivating and make us feel alert so that we do our best.
When we feel worried or anxious a lot or most of the time, even when there is no situation to be anxious about, and this is impairing our functioning in everyday life, it becomes a problem. It can start causing negative physical and psychological effects, particularly if we are experiencing an anxiety disorder. Thankfully, there are many ways that we can work to prevent, improve and manage feelings of anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Physical Effects of Anxiety
When we feel anxious, our body shifts gears and into “Emergency mode”. We are flushed with hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare us to stay and fight, or get away as soon as possible. This is called the “Fight or Flight” response, and it causes changes in our body like increased heart rate, sweating, increased breathing, hyperventilation and blood pressure.
High levels of excess stress hormones can wreak havoc on the body. We are at increased risk of health problems, such as weight gain, headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues, heart disease and sleep problems.
Psychological Effects of Anxiety
Anxiety causes feelings of nervousness, tension, fear, restlessness, difficulty concentrating and obsessive thoughts. We may worry about prominent concerns like health and illness, or more common day-to-day concerns like what people may think of us, or a full email inbox. The worry may or may not be something that is likely to actually happen.
We may feel fatigued, withdraw from relationships and activities that we usually get much enjoyment from and put less effort into taking care of ourselves such as exercising or eating healthily. We might find it difficult to do even basic daily tasks, because we feel frozen by worry.
How can I prevent and manage anxiety?
There are many scientifically backed ways to manage and prevent feelings of anxiety. Daily practices of self-care and a focus on wellbeing can help to prevent feelings of anxiousness and make you more prepared and ready to respond to anxious feelings when they do arise. If you have or suspect you may have more serious anxiety that you feel you need help with, you may wish to seek out the help of a professional, like a counsellor or psychologist, and work together to address potential ways and approaches to help your anxiety disorder.
One way to improve your feelings of worry is by starting small. Start with one daily habit you feel would help you to increase your sense of wellbeing and prevent and cope with anxious feelings. It is likely to be a process to find what works for you and adjust your approach over time. Take a look at our suggestions below, and think about which strategy you might enjoy most and find relatively easy to embed in your life.
- Yoga. Improving your physical health and working on balancing your mind in one hit. If a yoga studio membership is not in your budget, look online for guided yoga videos. There’s some great one’s on YouTube, and you can do them in the comfort of your own home.
- Meditation. Meditation is a wonderful way to calm the mind and to prevent and lower anxiety. Start small with 5 minutes, and increase time if you feel like it is helping you. There are some great resources, like the “Headspace” app and “Insight Timer” app that can teach and guide you.
- Healthy eating. A healthy mind is a healthy body. 90% of serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced in the gut, so what we eat really matters for our mental health. Focus on “whole foods” that come from nature, not packages – like fruits, vegetables, healthy grains and meat, if it is in your diet. Probiotic foods (like yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir) or probiotic capsules are great for our gut health.
Explore whether anxiety is impacting your own wellbeing
We have created a quick and easy online wellbeing measurement that gives you insight into six key drivers of your mental health and wellbeing, anxious feelings being one of them. After you complete the measurement, you get immediate access to your own personalised report.
Want to give it a go? Check out the bottom of our measurement page for more information.