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Posted 7 May 2018
We chat to counsellor Lisa Bondarenko to discuss anxiety, the most common mental health condition affecting people in Australia.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition affecting people in Australia. On average, one in four people; one in three women and one in ﬁve men, will experience anxiety at some stage in their life.1 In a 12-month period, over two million Australians experience anxiety.2
There is a significant difference between having anxiety and feeling anxious. It is a common human experience to feel anxious about different life circumstances and stressors; waiting for the results of that medical test, will “he” call me after our first date, how will we pay our mortgage this month? The list goes on. This kind of “being anxious” is related to real-life events and typically dissipates once the moment has passed.
However, having anxiety is different. Sufferers report feeling heightened emotions, in both intensity and duration, which are not proportional to the stressor or trigger.
Anxiety can trigger a full-blown fight-flight-or-freeze response of our sympathetic nervous system, but because anxiety is an emotional response to something that hasn’t occurred, there is nothing to fight or flee. Our mind goes round and round, replaying possibilities and scenarios.
If you have ever truly experienced anxiety, you would know that in the “eye of the storm” you would do just about anything to STOP or AVOID it. I mean who enjoys sweaty palms, racing heart, the feeling of a brick on your chest or even more overwhelming, feeling you might throw up or pass out? The experience of anxiety can be debilitating and paralyzing on so many levels and is commonly a misunderstood condition.
As a Counsellor, I often use the metaphor of anxiety as an alarm. An alarm alerts us to things, gains our attention and forces us to respond; similarly, anxiety can help us be aware of potential threats, dangers and areas in our world that need attention. Unfortunately, just as the wind can trigger my house alarm signalling an intruder, my internal anxiety alarm can also send a “false” reading of imminent danger or stress.
If you are prone to anxious thoughts, general stress or find yourself overwhelmed more often than not, I encourage you to work with it and on it. A key ingredient in this process is not wishing the anxiety away – rather, it is enhancing your ability to tolerate the feelings when they present themselves and to understand their triggers.
Tips to manage anxiety
Seek professional help.Don’t “Dr Google” it. Assess if the level of anxiety you feel costs you opportunities, experiences or general health and happiness. When you do this, also understand, anxiety is not a life sentence.
Examine your thoughtswhen you feel anxious. Try to identify specific thinking patterns that could look something like this:
• Fortune-telling – ‘Something bad will happen.…’
• Mind-reading – ‘He’s not that into me.…’
• Catastrophic thinking – ‘It would be terrible if.…’
Externalize anxiety.Seeing it as a separate entity to “who you are” is powerful. Consider anxiety as something you experience, external to yourself, perhaps even visualise it sitting across from you, so when it tries to pull you in and swallow you whole, you can see it for what it is.
Stay in the present moment.Anxiety can make your thoughts live in a catastrophic future that is unlikely to eventuate. Practising mindfulness can help keep you in the here and now and safe from unnecessary worry.
Look after the little things. Keeping active, eating well, going out into nature, spending time with family and friends (who do not stress you out!) and reducing stress can all assist in reducing anxiety and improving your overall wellbeing.
Anxiety is a part of many peoples lives; varying from mild to debilitating. Ask yourself the question; is anxiety in the driver’s seat of your life, or are you?
Lisa Bondarenko is a counsellor supporting people to function more effectively in their life and relationships. She has a holistic approach to physical, emotional and mental health, encouraging her clients to live consciously and proactively, as well as develop increased self-awareness, insight and skills.
1.Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. No. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, 2007. Cat. No. (4326.0). Canberra: ABS.