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Nov. 1, 2017

There seems to be a silent epidemic of anxiety in our community, one that people are often embarrassed to discuss, and regrettably often keep hidden. Our fast-paced lives, full of real and perceived stresses, creates the perfect environment for mental health issues to thrive. Our fast-paced lives, full of real and perceived stresses, creates the perfect environment for mental health issues to thrive.

All of us will experience a degree of stress and anxiety in our lives. Some of it can be helpful, for example, if you want to pass exams and you are afraid of failing, some anxiety may drive you to study harder. The problem comes if the worry becomes so overwhelming that it monopolises your thinking and you are unable to focus on anything else.

We estimate one in three of us will have at least one episode of anxiety in our lifetime, so this is a disease that deserves to be discussed openly.

Whilst depression and anxiety are on the same spectrum, they can co-exist or occur independently of each other. In depression, mood is low and life may seem very bleak. Anxiety is characterised by fear, worry and panic. Often there can be very physical manifestations of anxiety, like a pounding heart, fast breathing, chest pain, nausea and sweating.

Sometimes anxiety can be a reaction to difficult life events, but often it can come out of the blue.

Whilst there are potentially millions of things we humans could worry about, those with anxiety typically tend to have several anxieties which they focus on. Repeated worry is like practice and it leads to an ability to get very worried, very quickly. Often the worries may not seem rational, or may appear extreme to others, but for those who are suffering with them it is very hard to reason them away.

The type of worry varies enormously. It is often focused on loved ones, sometimes pets. For example, a fear of them befalling some sort of disaster. The actual risk of this disaster happening may be miniscule, but it becomes blown way out of proportion. Anxiety can be around weight gain and in which case it may lead to anorexia. Anxiety may be linked to phobias, for example, driving, flying, crossing the Harbour Bridge or being in small cramped places. Anxiety may lead to obsessions, such as endless checking (did I turn off the iron, did I lock the door, where is my purse???), fear of bugs and infection leading to endless handwashing, and the need to have things ordered in a certain way. Anxiety can be linked to health issues, with endless fear of disease and death.

Often anxiety leads to insomnia, because the brain cannot relax and switch off. Fatigue then exacerbates the anxiety and there is a downward spiral into poorer mental health. Appetite may be supressed, or in some cases increased.

Those with anxiety can be so wound up that they are irritable, find it difficult to concentrate, have reduced tolerance and begin to struggle with relationships, parenting and work. Often there is an element of paranoia, with negative thinking and fear that others are thinking the worst about them.

Occasionally, those suffering from anxiety try to self-treat with alcohol or recreational drugs. Unfortunately, this tends to back fire, and can lead to ramping up of symptoms and addictions.

Doctors use many skills and tools to pick up psychological distress. One scoring tool frequently used in general practice is the Kessler 10. Here is a link so you can take the test if you are interested.

If you believe that you or a loved one has anxiety please come in and talk to your Medplus doctor. We understand anxiety and we can help you overcome it. We can offer a whole array of treatment options, including lifestyle changes, talking therapies, relaxation strategies, help with insomnia, and if required some medication. Anxiety is often very easy to treat and we take great satisfaction in helping our patients find their way through. Do not stay silent, take the first step and come in and talk to us.