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Worried about how anxious you feel? Wondering 'what is anxiety'? Learn how to tell the difference between ‘normal’ anxiety and an anxiety disorder. Find out about potential causes of anxiety disorders, anxiety symptoms and what to do if you feel that anxiety is affecting your life.

This can help if:

  • you often feel scared, worried, ‘on edge’ or nervous
  • you often worry that something bad will happen
  • you have difficulty concentrating because of fear or worry
  • you avoid doing things because of anxiety.
Girl on outdoor train platform

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the body’s physical response to fear. The symptoms might include:

  • racing heart
  • rapid breathing
  • sweaty palms
  • butterflies in your stomach
  • ‘burst’ of energy.

Everyone feels anxious at times, and a certain level of anxiety is both normal and even helpful in some situations. Anxiety is our body’s way of keeping us safe. For instance, imagine you’re walking home, and you’re dragging your feet because you’re tired. Out of the corner of your eye, you think you see a snake. Suddenly, you forget how tired you are and have a burst of energy that helps you to get away.

Anxiety can also motivate us. If we feel a bit anxious about an assignment that’s due, it can help us to get it done on time. However, feeling too much anxiety about something usually gets in the way and can be unhealthy.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorder occurs when anxiety starts to severely impact on a person’s life. Rather than feeling anxious in response to actual danger, someone with an anxiety disorder will experience the same symptoms in situations they perceive as dangerous (e.g. meeting new people or taking public transportation).

The various types of anxiety disorders include:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder: excessive worry about anything and everything, including worrying about worrying.
  • Social anxiety disorder: anxiety in social situations, often rooted in the fear of doing something wrong and being judged by others.
  • Panic disorder: repeated panic attacks and worry about future panic attacks.
  • Agoraphobia: anxiety about having a panic attack in certain situations and not being able to escape or to get help.
  • Specific phobias: intense fear of objects or situations (e.g. dogs).

What causes anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders aren’t caused by a single factor, but rather by a combination of things. A family history of anxiety, a person’s physical health, personality traits and stressful life experiences can all be contributing factors. Anxiety disorders are likely to develop over time and are usually sustained by unhelpful thinking patterns.

Read the transcript.

What can I do now?