While anxiety is usually a natural and short-lived reaction to a stressful situation, for some people anxious thoughts, feelings, or physical symptoms can become chronic, severe and upsetting, and interrupt daily life.4 Severe, frequent, recurring, and persistent anxiety symptoms may be considered an anxiety disorder.1 Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental health disorder diagnosed in Australia affecting around 14% of Australians every year. 1, 5, 6
There are different types of anxiety disorders:
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterised by persistent and excessive worry, often about daily situations like work, family or health. This worry is difficult to control and interferes with the person’s day-to-day life and relationships.
Specific phobia involves extreme anxiety and fear of particular objects or situations. Common phobias include fear of flying, fear of spiders and other animals, and fear of injections.
Panic disorder is characterised by the experience of repeated and unexpected panic attacks – sudden surges of overwhelming fear and anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, dizziness and breathlessness. In panic disorder, these panic attacks come ‘out of the blue’ with no apparent trigger.
Agoraphobia involves intense anxiety in situations and places where the person feels it would be difficult for them to get out quickly or get help if needed. This includes situations such as using public transport, being in a lift or a cinema, standing in a queue, being in a crowd, or being outside of the home alone.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) presents in people as recurring, persistent and distressing thoughts, images or impulses known as obsessions (e.g., a fear of catching germs), or feeling compelled to carry out certain repetitive behaviours, rituals or mental acts, known as compulsions (e.g., handwashing). Some people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. These thoughts and behaviours can take over a person's life and, while people with OCD usually know that their obsessions and compulsions are an overreaction, they feel they are unable to stop them.
Social anxiety disorder is characterised by severe anxiety about being criticised or viewed negatively by others. This leads the person to avoid social events and other social situations for fear of doing something that leads to embarrassment or humiliation.