When checks revealed no physical health problems, Robert’s GP determined the symptoms as panic attacks, a common sign of an anxiety disorder.
Says Dr Blashki: “Anxiety, and in particular panic attacks, usually involve significant physical symptoms such as a racing heart, breathlessness, dizziness, a choking feeling, a churning stomach, chest pains.”
He adds: “The symptoms can come on quite suddenly and can escalate within minutes. Not surprisingly, someone experiencing a panic attack is often worried they’re going to pass out, embarrass themselves, or even die — so it can be quite a terrifying experience.”
Worry that’s out of proportion
When worry becomes your constant companion, you could be experiencing an anxiety condition.
Unrelenting worry with no single focus and a tendency to escalate into catastrophic thoughts is a red flag, says Dr Blashki.
“People who are experiencing social anxiety get very caught up worrying about what other people think of them and imagine that others are observing and criticising them,” he says.
“People with Generalised Anxiety Disorder are very prone to catastrophic thinking and imagining the worst possible outcome of any situation.”
He adds: “The psychological approach called cognitive behavioural therapy targets negative thinking and helps people to put these thoughts into perspective.”
Anxiety conditions can provoke persistent, distressing thoughts that can make you feel stuck in a loop.
Natasha*, 35, had started lying awake nightly, ruminating over perceived slights at work. She’d fixate on answered emails or texts. Had she caused offence? Was her job in danger?
Her obsessive brooding, disrupting her sleep and mood, turned out to be a key symptom of an undiagnosed anxiety condition.
Obsessive thinking can also indicate a specific type of anxiety condition: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Says Dr Blashki: “The central feature of OCD is recurring intrusive thoughts that can lead to significant disability and lost quality of life.
“Common themes for obsessions include cleanliness, safety and checking, counting or hoarding and sometimes sexual or religious/moral issues.”
He adds: “OCD usually manifests in the need to repeat activities like checking or hand washing, to obtain a sense of relief.”
Lisa* froze outside her office one day. “I just couldn’t move my feet forward,” she says. “I turned around, went home, and called in sick.”
After increased absences from work, Lisa sought help. With a diagnosis from her GP, she was able to manage her anxiety condition.
“Avoidance and withdrawal from anxiety-provoking situations is very common,” says Dr Blashki, “and unfortunately when anxiety is not addressed, the situations in which a person feels safe tend to become increasingly restricted.”
He adds: “People sometimes develop a secondary condition we call agoraphobia, where they avoid any place where they might feel trapped, embarrassed or helpless.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety condition that can occur after someone experiences a traumatic event, such as war, an accident, assault or natural disaster.
“Often the person experiences upsetting memories, flashbacks or dreams,” says Dr Blashki. “Or they
might find they get very distressed when something reminds them of the event.”
“People with PTSD might find themselves always on guard and vigilant, easily startled and easily irritated. Some also find that they feel emotionally detached and disconnected,” he adds.
If you think you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, reach out to Beyond Blue for support. Visit https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ to learn more.
*Real names weren’t used for anonymity