By Karen Burge and staff writers at the ABC.
Most of us have experienced the racing heart, sweaty palms, feelings of dread and snowballing worries that are the calling cards of anxiety.
Feeling anxious or stressed when you’re going for a job interview or moving house is not unusual. It’s how most us respond when we’re under pressure or feeling threatened. Usually these feelings fade once we feel safe.
But sometimes anxiety is not fleeting or a ‘proportionate response to our surroundings’, says Associate Professor Peter McEvoy.
One in four of us will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in our lives, so this means we’ll find our heart races and our worries snowball, without any obvious cause and more often than we would expect.
The good news is most people will be able to get a handle on their anxiety with the right treatment, which might involve psychological therapies, medication or e-therapies.
Associate Professor McEvoy says there are also some simple acts that can help you to better deal with your anxiety and make you less vulnerable to stressors.
Keeping your stress levels in check can help you feel more on an even keel and in control.
Clinical psychologist Dr Cindy Nour, director of MindFrame Psychology, says stress can exacerbate anxiety if you are vulnerable to it.
We all have different ways of coping with stress, for some of us it’s yoga and for others knitting. Whatever you do, it has be something that works for you.
In its most recent survey, the Australian Psychological Society found there are a range of ways most of us try to cope with stress.
Mindfulness, breathing exercises and relaxation practices are other tools to add to the tool box, says Dr Nour, and there is good evidence they can work well when it comes to worrying.
Very few of us function well if we don’t get enough sleep, but research shows insomnia is closely associated with anxiety as both a symptom and a potential trigger.
Psychiatrist and Brain and Mind Institute co-director Professor Ian Hickie says a good night’s sleep is essential to “breaking up anxiety and not letting yesterday’s worries carry over to today”.
“People don’t realise that you can stay quite anxious throughout the night even though you are asleep,” he says.
“The resulting disturbed sleep and light restless sleep is a result of not switching off anxiety before going to sleep.”
Whether it’s pounding the pavement on a daily run, clocking up laps in the pool or salsa dancing, those who make a habit of exercise often talk about how it makes them feel good.
Associate Professor McEvoy says studies have found exercise can be particularly helpful when it comes to managing anxiety.
Indeed not only does research show regular exercisers have better mental health and emotional wellbeing and lower rates of mental illness, but studies that track people over time show taking up physical exercise seems to reduce the risk of anxiety in the first place.