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An estimated one in four New Zealanders will at some point suffer from anxiety during their life according to the Mental Health Foundation. As the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition in our country, anxiety is also a condition many people do not seek medical assistance with. Yet excessive anxiety can cause significant disruptions to the life of an individual, making early recognition and treatment essential.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a normal human emotion. It is the worry you have when your child goes for their first sleepover. It is the sick feeling in your stomach the night before an exam. Anxiety is even the feelings you get when you see a large spider. The difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder is the amount of it, how it affects your life and how you manage it.
Common anxiety disorders include:
- Phobia disorders (fear of flying, open spaces, social events etc.)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Panic attacks
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Acute stress disorder
Anxiety also frequently co-exists with other mental health conditions including depression. Research has shown that one in five people with depression will also be suffering from anxiety at the same time. If you or someone else believes that your anxiety plays a significant role or impacts upon your life, contacting your GP should be your first port of call. They will chat with you about what you’ve been experiencing, identifying the level of stress or worry you have been having. This will help them decide if you need further support services or if you will be able to manage the symptoms with their support.
Ways of Successfully Managing Anxiety
Anxiety is a physical feeling or response we have in advance of something which may or may not happen. While it will come regardless of what you do, there are many ways you can significantly reduce the level of anxiety you feel.
- Mindfulness – mindfulness is the process of deliberately becoming aware of what you are feeling or doing in the present moment. It is the acceptance of how you are feeling without making any judgement on those feelings. Mindfulness meditation as a part of a daily routine can significantly reduce anxiety levels and improve its management.
- Physical exercise – regular exercise helps to raise the endorphins or ‘feel good’ hormones within our body and help us feel less stressed.
- Talking – sharing our feelings with others is a way of working through your anxious thought patterns. It is important though that you do not seek reassurance as this will only fuel your anxiety and make you want to ask again, just to make sure. Instead acknowledging or describing your anxiety to someone, be it a counsellor, family member, GP or psychologist is an incredibly effective way of lowering your anxiety levels.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet, reducing or removing alcohol and cigarettes.
Chronic anxiety can in some cases reduce the amount of paid employment you can participate in. Our article Loss of Productivity from Chronic and Ongoing Conditions offers more detailed information about the ins and outs of living with those types of conditions.