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Mental health explained: what is anxiety disorder?

A woman standing in a field, a storm cloud floating where her face would be.
Anxiety is a very common mental health condition in Australia.

A racing mind that replays the same worries again and again, sleepless nights, a churning stomach or sweaty palms – anxiety can present itself in a lot of different ways. A little bit of worry or stress is a normal part of life. But if these feelings persist for a couple of weeks or more, or if they affect your ability to work, study or enjoy life, they might point to an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorder is a common, treatable mental health condition that affects a large number of Queenslanders. Like most health conditions, anxiety can affect people in different ways, with some people experiencing debilitating illness, while others have milder – but no less serious – symptoms.

Statistics show that while anxiety is really common in our society, not everyone who experiences anxiety gets help for their condition. This might be because of stigma about mental health conditions, because people aren’t aware of where to seek help for anxiety, or because they don’t realise what anxiety is and that it’s a condition that can be treated.

Because of this, it’s important to help Queenslanders like you understand what anxiety is and where to seek help for anxiety, so that if you experience the condition, or someone you know does, you can get appropriate support.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental health condition, which means it’s a condition that can affect the way you think, feel and behave. Even though it’s a ‘mental health’ condition, anxiety can affect how you feel physically in your body as well as how you feel in your mind.

There are different types of anxiety, including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias and panic disorder. It’s common for people to experience more than one of these types of anxiety at the same time. Anxiety can also be present in conditions like depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Like all mental health conditions, anxiety is a medical condition. It can be treated, and without treatment, it can have serious effects on a person’s life.

Who gets anxiety?

If you think you might have anxiety, it can help to know that it’s a very common condition. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. On average, one in three women and one in five men will experience anxiety during their life. Anxiety doesn’t discriminate; you can develop anxiety regardless of your background, ethnicity, age, job or personality.

Symptoms of anxiety

The symptoms of anxiety can vary a lot from person to person. You might experience most of your anxiety symptoms physically, like feeling a tightness in your chest, shaky hands or dizziness. For others, the emotional affects might be most noticeable, with a racing mind or negative self-talk. Anxiety can also affect how you behave, so you might find yourself snapping at people when they talk to you or turning down invitations to do activities you would normally say ‘yes’ to.

Because anxiety can affect people in different ways, the symptoms aren’t always obvious. The below are common anxiety symptoms listed by beyondblue:

  • Physical: panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up or edgy
  • Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophising or obsessive thinking
  • Behavioural: avoiding situations that make you feel anxious, which can impact study, work or social life.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to take action towards getting help. You could get started by taking beyondblue’s anxiety checklist, book an appointment with your GP, or book in to see a counsellor provided by your workplace, university or school.

A man sits on a plane, head in his hands.

How is anxiety treated?

Because anxiety can present in a lot of different ways, there are different types of treatments that will work for different people.

Anxiety might be treated by using one or a combination of methods which can include lifestyle changes, social support, psychological or ‘talking’ therapies, or medical treatments. You can read more about the different types for treatment here.

When to get help for anxiety?

Research by beyondblue shows that 40% of Australians with anxiety didn’t seek help for their condition because they didn’t think it was serious enough. But the sooner a person seeks help for their anxiety, regardless of how severe they think their symptoms are, the sooner they can start to get better.

A lot of people can continue to function with a condition like anxiety – they go to work or school, interact with their families and friends and keep up their hobbies. But anxiety will still affect them, and without seeking help, it may make doing these things more difficult or less enjoyable.

It can be easy to find proof that you’re not anxious if you’re still managing to get through your day-to-day tasks. Remember that anxiety that is persistent or is affecting your work, study or enjoyment of life is not normal and not something you have to put up with, and letting anxiety go might lead to the condition getting worse or the development of other conditions like depression.

If you think you might have anxiety, or even if you’re not sure what’s going on but you’re just not quite feeling yourself, the time to get help is now.

I think I might have anxiety, what should I do?

The best thing you can do if you’re feeling anxious on an ongoing basis is to tell someone. Tell a trusted friend, family member or colleague; access your work, school or university mental health service if you have one; speak to your GP; or use a phone or online support service.

To get medical or psychological treatment, you should see your GP to set up a mental health care plan. You can read about what that is and how it works in our article, ‘What is a mental health care plan and how do I get one?’.

More information

Visit these websites for more information about anxiety.

Health Direct


SANE Australia


Last updated: 10 December 2018