Photo credit: Ayo Ogunseinde

When you consider how rarely it’s discussed publicly, it’s hard to believe that anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia. (Beyond Blue, 2018., & Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008).
 
The irony is, that while anxiety is a mental health condition, it is not a ‘mental illness’. Many argue that this distinction plays a huge part in the unnecessary taboo, confusion, and associated ‘shame’ that clouds the airing of this all-too-common problem for our community (McDonagh, 2015, pp. 61 – 65). 
 
Anxiety is the body’s protective mechanism, characterised as “deeply troubling and pervasive emotions” that impact the body and mind, fundamentally as a result of too much stress for too long without relief (Rachman, 2013, p. 1). McDonagh (2015, p. 62) elaborates on how people who are intelligent and creative are more likely to experience anxiety on a more severe scale.

“The anxious thoughts you experience are just thoughts and nothing more. They don’t represent the real you. They’re simply the result of stress hormones interacting with your vigilant and creative mind.”
(McDonagh, 2015, p. 62). 

If you do suffer from anxiety, or have in the past, you are much more ‘normal’ than you might imagine. An astounding 1 in 4 people in Australia; including 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men; experience anxiety in their lives (Beyond Blue, 2018., & Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). Those stats are mind-boggling when you imagine a room full of twenty people; whether a work meeting or function or a social gathering; as at least five people there are likely to have anxiety in the present or past.

Anxiety is very common in social workers and community service personnel, as they are more susceptible, due to the sheer nature of being constantly exposed to stressful environments; with people who have been affected by high levels of disadvantage and trauma (Niven, 2014).

Photo Credit: Mathew Henry

When workers put themselves into the shoes of others, often using therapeutic empathy, they ‘taste’ the same emotional and physiological ‘pain’ of those around them, through what Daniel Siegel calls the ‘resonance circuits’. Siegel says that we ‘read’ emotional states through reading our body’s response to their stories and their non-verbal language; in this way, we experience some of what our clients’ experience (Siegel, 2009). 

The experience of anxiety is often compounded by the deep sense of shame, as those suffering from anxiety often depict it in themselves as a weakness (McDonagh, 2015, pp. 64 – 65). Statistics show that whilst women too often conceal it, men are more likely to hide the condition, as they are more often ashamed of showing perceived weaknesses (McDonagh, 2015, pp. 64). Subsequently, this also may lead to not receiving support or treatment for long periods of time; compounding a problem that lessens when shared.

But paradoxically, anxiety is actually a sign of strength, with your body going into the protective mode of a ‘flight, fight or freeze’ response to high levels of stress. The fight, flight or freeze response is the stress hormones and brain basically telling your body to protect yourself to run, fight or pretend to be dead; to survive an attack from a predator.  Also known as ‘human instinct’.

More often than not these days, the stress and threats of modern society are no longer physically running from a predator, but rather other types of stressors, deadlines, pressures and responsibilities. The way anxiety is experienced in the body and mind, however; subjective feelings and thoughts, accompanied by extreme bodily changes; remains the same (Lader & Marks, 1971, p. 124

Photo Credit: Ravi Roshan

 

Whilst recovering from anxiety is a personal journey, most professionals whom treat it and the people whom recover from it often say one thing in common, the best way to heal is to keep on keeping on. If you move forward, seek support and work through it, you will come out of the woods to the other side.

There are many different approaches to overcoming panic or anxiety, and each person may use many more than one method. Potenza 2009 (in Denobrega, 2016, p. 32) emphasises the use of multiple approaches and disciplines; such as spiritual, physical and psychological; in the recovery journey.

Photo Credit: Austin Chan

 

Most importantly your GP can help, and potentially also refer you to a psychologist who can teach you tools to understand and work to overcome the sensations and experience that is unique to you, or your loved one, who may be suffering. Some people find a trip away or traveling to be the balm they need. Other remedies include enriching your spiritual life, exercise, walking long distances, breathing practices, yoga and creative outlets like journaling. For some people, their get up and go comes from meaningful relationships, being a parent, or a goal for the future. It could even be all of the above.

The most important part is to seek help and support, and to have faith the sun will rise again!

In a medical emergency always call 000.
Lifeline support call 13 11 14

REFERENCES

Beyond Blue. (2018). Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008): National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results. Statistics and References. Retrieved from www.beyondblue.org.au

Denobrega, R. (2016). Evidence-Based Alternative Therapy to Reduce Anxiety in Ambulatory Mental Health Patients. InPharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviour116(1), pp. 1-152. Elsevier: Berlin. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbb.2013.11.016

Lader, M. & Marks, I. (1971). Clinical Anxiety. Elsevier Limited: London.

Mc Donagh, B. (2015). Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks. BMD Publishing LTD: United States of America.

Rachman, S. (2013). Anxiety. Clinical Psychology: A Modular Course (3rd ed.). Psychology Press: East Sussex; New York.

Siegel, D. J. (2009). Mindsight: Change your brain and your life. Melbourne: Scribe.

Niven, D. (2014). Social Care Network: Stress and Anxiety in Social Work: Reflective Supervision Can Help. Retrieved fromhttps://www.theguardian.com/social-care-network/2014/may/15/stress-anxiety-social-work-reflective-supervision

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