Here is a little secret which is wildly underappreciated in 2023. Yes, you probably have anxiety at some point in your life. But that doesn’t mean you have a problem. It actually means that you are human. It is entirely normal and expected that things make us feel uncomfortable, to raise the heartbeat a little bit. And in many ways, it is actually a good thing.
Anxiety is a little gift given to you from millions of years of evolution. It is the surge of nervous energy that you needed to escape a sabre toothed tiger in time immemorial. It is the jumpiness that helped you hunt down food to feed your family. Without anxiety, the human race would have never made it past the neanderthal stage.
However, this fight or flight reaction was only ever intended to stick around for short little intervals when you really needed it. In the 21st century, the things that stress us out tend not to be episodic little events like a tiger attack (which you either survive or don’t, and it only takes a couple of minutes to work out which). Instead, it is a deadline that looms over us for weeks. Or it can be a social dynamic that exists every single day you go to work or school. In short, the stimuli for heightened anxiety feel more ever present today; therein lies the problem.
You might be experiencing Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) if these feelings have been hanging around for a number of months, it is not something you should have to endure. Just like months of back pain would be just cause for seeking medical help, a prolonged period of anxiety should be considered a medical issue. Here are a number of the symptoms of GAD. If you have three or more, it might be worth talking to your GP.
- Excessive fear - This can look different for different people. For some GAD sufferers, there is a fixation on one particular topic or idea, and they catastrophize the outcome, focusing only on the absolute worst case scenario, and ignoring the more likely middle ground. Alternatively, they might find many things to be daunting and concerning: work, health, family, friendships. Even though these things might be perfectly safe, the latent anxiety bubbling away in the background makes doom seem right around the corner.
- Overly Irritable - Because sufferers of GAD are constantly on edge, they might find it difficult to not become snappy or irritable. Whilst you can find things on your online chemist like St. John’s Wort to aid relaxation, this is only addressing the symptom, not the cause. Having said that, there are a number of products available from your online chemist which can be used in the moment to help alleviate panic.
- Muscle tension - You might consider this the physical equivalent of irritability. They never truly relax because they perceive danger as being right around the corner. Over time, this can lead to muscle tension (particularly around the neck and shoulders), stiffness and pain.
- Fatigue - Those with a generalised anxiety disorder will often find sleeping to be a tall order. After all, it is quiet and dark, with nothing to distract from the anxiety inducing inner monologue which is quietly catastrophizing their deepest darkest fear. Most people are exhausted after one bad night’s sleep. Imagine if this was your everyday existence. This fatigue can also come about in the daytime because of all the nervous energy being expended.
- Poor concentration - It all snowballs to result in lower concentration. If your brain is preoccupied with the various fears and worries, you are unlikely to be as alert. Couple that with the poorer sleep, the muscle tension and the irritability, and it becomes very difficult indeed.
- Panic attacks - This is not the same thing as feeling panicked when something is going wrong. A panic is a physiological phenomenon that takes place when the levels of anxiety go beyond what can be reasonably handled. This can involve chest pain, sweating, trembling, and it might cause the sufferer to feel as though they need to curl up in a ball to protect themselves from the perceived danger.
In order for you to be diagnosed with a general anxiety disorder, you would need to experience three of these in a sustained manner over a number of months. If this is the case, it is incredibly important that you recognise a few truths:
- It ain’t weak to speak. This is no shortcoming of flaw in your personality. It is a maladaptive neural response to an external stimulus. It is no more about you than an allergic reaction would be.
- Most psychologists refer to GAD as the ‘common cold’ of the mind. By this, they mean it is incredibly common, affecting roughly one in six Australians, and it is fairly easy to deal with. THis means that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Seek help, you don’t need to accept this as normal.
If you would like to seek help, there is a fairly straightforward process in Australia.
- Go and see your GP. They will help you understand whether you actually do have some kind of disorder, and will write up a Mental Health Plan. This Mental Health Plan will subsidise six visits to a psychologist of your own choosing.
- Ask for a recommendation. Your GP might have some ideas, or your friends and family might have visited a psychologist they can attest to. After all, one in six people have some form of GAD.
- Book in sessions and continue to work on the activities and readings they provide. If after six weeks you’ve not made the progress you are after, the psychologist can apply for a further six on your behalf.
So there you have it. Do you have anxiety? Almost certainly. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No. But if it persists, you might have an anxiety disorder. You’re always better off consulting the expert rather than letting google diagnose you. And while there are many helpful products available from this online chemist, they will always work better when accompanied by intervention from medical professionals.