All about anxiety disorders

An anxiety disorder is when worry or fear get out of control and start interfering with your life. Get the facts on the types of anxiety disorders, their, causes and their signs and symptoms. Think you might have an anxiety disorder? Find out what to do.

Signs this might be a problem:

  • You often feel fear or worry
  • Your mind often races, so you can’t think straight
  • You often can’t concentrate because of worry or fear
  • You often feel on edge or nervous
  • You sometimes panic or get upset easily when nervous

What is an anxiety disorder?

Everyone feels anxious sometimes – worried or afraid of something happening, or obsessed about something happening in a certain way. When that fear or anxiety becomes something that gets in the way of your life (school or work, relationships, ability to enjoy things or cope), doesn’t go away and causes you distress, that is when it could be a more serious anxiety disorder. 

Wanting to avoid or run away from things we’re worried about, or afraid of, is normal – it’s a reaction that has developed over the course of evolution and helps us respond to life threatening situations. Having an anxiety disorder means that this response is causing you more problems than good. Around 15% of young people have anxiety disorders, with most having their first symptoms before the age of 15.

Causes of anxiety disorders

Some of the causes of an anxiety disorder are:

  • A history of anxiety within your family.
  • Biochemical – one theory is that it’s caused by an imbalance of the chemicals in the brain that regulate feelings and physical reactions. It can alter your thoughts, emotions or behaviour and result in anxiety.
  • A stressful event or chain of events such as a family break-up, abuse, ongoing bullying at school, sexual abuse, a death, a relationship break up, family conflict can be stressful and lead to increased anxiety that sticks around.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

It's also common for people to feel:

  • Extreme fear or worry (about past, or future things)
  • Like their mind is racing and they can't think straight
  • Like they can’t concentrate on or remember things
  • Impatient like things are too slow, or confused
  • On edge, like something is about to happen, or nervous
  • Like they can’t sleep or sleeping badly (sometimes really weird dreams)
Physical signs sometimes also include:
  • Heart pounding, tight chest or chest pain, or blushing or feeling hot
  • Fast, shallow breathing – feeling short of breath
  • Dizzy, headache, sweaty, tingly, numb
  • Harder to swallow, dry mouth, stomach pain

You may experience just a few of these, or many more than that - it's different for everyone.

Types of anxiety disorders

  • General anxiety (or Generalised Anxiety Disorder) is anxiety or worry that is not specific to any one thing but can be about anything and everything.

  • Social anxiety disorder involves a fear of being in public situations where people might judge you if you do something embarrassing or humiliating.

  • Panic attacks are a sudden overwhelming feeling of uneasiness, fear or terror, where it feels like you might have a heart attack, go mad or die.

  • Panic disorder is having repeated panic attacks and being worried about future panic attacks.

  • Agoraphobia is anxiety about being in situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing if you have a panic attack.

  • Specific phobias involve intense and ongoing fear of particular objects or situations such as tunnels or dogs.

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involves thoughts which you can’t get rid of, and compulsive acts you feel you must do to make things OK and to calm your anxiety, like checking things or counting things. 

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder triggered by a major traumatic event, such as being, being attacked or in an accident, or things like sexual assault. It involves upsetting memories, flashbacks, nightmares,, and difficulties sleeping.

What you can do if you think you might have an anxiety disorder

If you think you are having problems with anxiety, you can try a few things that might help you relax.

There are a number of treatments for the different anxiety disorders. If you’re worried you might have an anxiety problem, an expert will be able to help you figure out what’s going on. They are also best placed to let you know what you can do to manage or overcome it.

It might be a good idea to look at the related links on different types of anxiety disorders, and then arrange to see a doctor. They should be able to tell you about the different options available and let you know what the best approach is for you. It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.

Managing an anxiety disorder can take time and there may be good and bad days, but dealing with, or even overcoming, an anxiety disorder is definitely possible.

If you want to hear from others, watch this 3 minute video about young people coping with feeling stressed, anxious, worried or down. 

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 27 April, 2016
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  • Ben-RO    (436 days ago)

    @Rhino03 I'm sorry to hear your parents aren't helping out. There's a few things you can do to help change this and get them doing what you need to keep working on recovery! The firs thing is to think about some of the things that are important for them to do to help you. You can ask your Psychologist for some help to work this out. You can also come and have a chat to use on the forums ( ) The next step is talking to them about it, which i totally can imagine might feel a bit stressful! So get some backup, is your Psychologist able to talk to your parents about what you need? You could also write a letter to them telling them what's up as that's a really good way to break the ice and also to make sure you get what's important to say out and be heard. There's lots more options and we're always happy to have a chat and support you through whatever you choose to do. Let us know how you go!

  • Rhino03    (441 days ago)

    I just found out that I have anxiety disorders and depression as well as bipolar disorder. I have been seeing a psychologist, I have been doing the things I have been told to do, but my parents aren't doing their job to help me, they continue to drag my confidence down and I am getting more and more afraid of leaving the house. Do any of you know what I should do?

  • Ben-RO    (524 days ago)

    Hey @justjoeThe simplest answer to this question is, treat both! Chronic pain can have a huge impact on one's mental health, it's definitely tough to live with and i can't imagine how hard the last 8 years must have been for you at times. I can definitely see how chronic pain could be contributing to symptoms of a mental health issue, however which came first doesn't matter a lot in terms of treatment. You will still benefit a great deal from getting the right support from a mental health professional, and you should also continue to explore treatment options for you back pain. If you'd like to talk a bit more about how to seek treatment and support around Anxiety and Depression, come and make a post over on our forums. Or if you want to explore the relationship between chronic health issues and mental health- then I'd love to have a chat. There's so many amazing (and sometimes very simple) things you can do to reduce the impact of and even recover from Anxiety and Depression.

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