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Health and Wellbeing

08 Feb 2018

Understanding and managing anxiety

Although many of us lead busy social lives, have dynamic workplaces, play sport and spend time with loved ones regularly, it is normal for some of us to have feelings of anxiety at some point in our lives.

This may be as a result of work pressure, an upcoming speech for a wedding, prior to a big life decision or a sudden life shock and is a normal response to a person feeling under pressure. Some people, however, feel anxious even after the situation has passed or at times for no apparent reason. The feelings can range from mild worry and unease, which don’t impact significantly on a person’s functioning, to intense or severe panic reactions, which severely impact one’s functioning and can be highly debilitating.

What are the symptoms?

  • Physical: hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening of the chest, quick breathing, restlessness, or feeling tense, wound up and edgy;
  • Psychological: excessive fear, worry, catastrophising, or obsesssive thinking;
  • Behavioural: avoidance of situations that make you feel anxious which can impact on study, work or social life, changes in normal sleep pattern, restlessness, irrational behaviour (eg repeated checking); and
  • Thoughts: worry, negative interpretation of events, unhelpful thoughts.

What if you have some of the above signs, some of the time?

That’s normal! However, you should speak to a mental health professional when the fear or worry:

  • Is too intense, happens too often or takes up a lot of time relative to the realistic likelihood or importance of the event;
  • Is difficult to dismiss; and
  • Prevents you working, socialising, sleeping or taking part in normal activities like travel, shopping or going out in public.

What you can do RIGHT NOW to help manage your anxiety symptoms?

  • Breathing exercises: By learning and practising a breathing technique that works for you, you can start to control your breathing when you start to notice anxiety symptoms. Try breathing in for three counts, holding for two counts and breathing out for three counts;
  • Relaxation: There are a number of techniques, including progressive muscle relaxation and meditation that may aid in relaxation. Look them up and then practise these in the comfort of your home;
  • Thinking strategies: Learning to differentiate between productive and unproductive thoughts, as well as whether you are engaging in unhelpful thinking styles is something that a mental health professional will be able to assist you with. Some people also try mindfulness and relaxation strategies to help with their thinking; and
  • Lifestyle changes: Basic lifestyle changes can sometimes be very effective in managing the impacts of anxiety. These include: regular exercise; reducing stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes; scheduling fun or relaxing activities for yourself. If these sound achievable, remember to make small changes and try not to make too many changes at once as doing so could both increase your anxiety levels and make it hard to work out what is working or not working!

Where to seek professional help:

Find a psychologist in the Southbank area that specialises in anxiety.

Seek support from beyond blue: 1300 22 4636

Do you have a question or comment for Rajna to answer in an upcoming column?

Email her on

Rajna Bogdanovic - Clinic Psychologist 

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