Anxiety & Stress

Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you finding yourself worrying constantly? Overthinking many aspects of your life and what you say and do? Life doesn’t have to be like this, help is available.

How do anxiety and stress differ?

Anxiety and stress are often thought of as the same thing and both are a normal part of being a human. Most people throughout the course of their life will experience anxiety and stress at some stage.

Both stress and anxiety are emotional, physiological, and psychological responses to something that is perceived to be a threat. Stress is usually triggered by something external. Anxiety, on the other hand, occurs when one is persistently worried even in the absence of a stressor.

Stress

Stress is helpful in small doses. It assists us to become motivated to start to achieve goals and move forward. Mild stress can often be managed through a balanced diet, exercise, and a healthy sleep routine. However, stress can be harmful and become all-consuming or overwhelming at times. High levels of stress can contribute to mental health conditions and impact on the quality of one’s life.

Some examples of situations that can cause high levels of stress for some people are moving house, having a baby, starting a new job, losing your job, having to meet a deadline at work or university, a disagreement with someone, financial pressure or having an illness. Stress shows up for people in physical, emotional, and mental symptoms, like difficulties sleeping, fatigue, digestive difficulties, anger, irritability, difficulties concentrating, avoidance of certain situations or social engagements, and an inability to relax to name just a few.

If you can relate to any of these signs of being stressed, it is best you speak with a trained psychologist or counsellor to get the help you need as soon as possible. Seeking help early makes all the difference and we care about your health and well-being at Brisbane Counselling Centre.

Anxiety

Anxiety looks and feels like stress in that it presents with the same kinds of physical symptoms – difficulties sleeping, fatigue and tension in the body. It also looks like stress with the emotional and mental signs – trouble concentrating, one’s ability to complete tasks is diminished, unable to think clearly, feelings of being overwhelmed, feeling isolated, irritable, mood swings and feelings of anger.

If you have tried to manage the anxiety or stress with your diet, exercise and sleep and are finding your mood and daily functioning is still being affected, it is a good idea to talk to a psychologist or counsellor to gain clarity about what is happening for you and identify what else you can do to manage the stress or anxiety more effectively. You can experience an anxious response to something stressful in your life, without being diagnosed with a mental health condition. Obtaining a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder usually occurs when the anxiety persists for months and has a negative effect on your mood and functioning, impacting on your well-being and quality of life.

Anxiety is a common mental health condition in Australia, with 1 in 5 adults living with an anxiety disorder. Living with high levels of anxiety can be overwhelming and affect various aspects of your life. If this sounds like you, it’s a great idea to engage with a professional who is trained in anxiety disorders. Psychologists and counsellors who attend Brisbane Counselling Centre are nurturing and understand what it feels like to be living with anxiety. Make the first step by reaching out to one of the caring professionals at Brisbane Counselling Centre, taking you closer to a calmer and more fulfilling life.

Anxiety disorders

Depending on the symptoms, anxiety disorders may be classified into a variety of categories or types as follows.

Generalised anxiety disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterised by excessive and persistent worrying about various aspects of life, including everyday situations such as health or finances, without any specific trigger. These fears and worries are very real and often keep individuals from concentrating on daily tasks or participating in life. Whilst it is completely normal to be anxious from time to time, excessive worry and fear, which becomes difficult to manage and impacts on your day-to-day activities, as well as relationships, may indicate that GAD is present.

Generalised anxiety disorder symptoms can vary. Some common symptoms are overthinking plans, thinking about worst case scenarios excessively, fear of making the wrong decision or having decision paralysis, unable to let go of the worry, feelings of being on edge, trouble concentrating, fatigue, difficulties sleeping, irritability, nausea, and diarrhea.

As outlined in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the criteria for a diagnosis of GAD are:

  • Persistent and consistent worry and anxiety for at least 6 months about several issues or events or activities, relating to health, school or work for example
  • Inability to control the worry and anxiety
  • Worry or anxiety are connected to at least 3 or more of the following for an adult – restlessness/feeling edgy; fatigue; trouble concentrating or having a blank mind; irritability; tension in the muscles, or difficulties sleeping
  • The impact of the anxiety, worry and physical distress causes significant impact on one’s functioning across several areas of life
  • Disruption is not better explained by substance use or another medical condition
Panic disorder
Panic Disorder is a form of anxiety characterised by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks. These attacks are intense episodes of fear or discomfort, accompanied by physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pain, and a fear of losing control or having a heart attack. People who suffer from this disorder generally develop strong fears about when and where their next panic attack will occur.

A diagnosis of panic disorder as outlined in the DSM-5, means a person must experience panic attacks regularly and unexpectedly. A panic attack is identifiable by at least four of the following symptoms:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Sensation of shortness of breath or being smothered
  • Feelings of choking
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Nausea or distress in the abdomen
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  • Feelings of unreality (derealisation) or detachment from oneself (depersonalisation)
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy
  • Fear of dying
  • Chills or hot flushes
  • Numbness or tingling sensations

To be diagnosed with panic disorder, the panic must not be due to substance use, any medical condition, or any other mental disorder.

Phobias 
Phobias are a form of anxiety disorder characterised by an intense and irrational fear of objects, situations, or activities. Specific phobias may involve encountering certain things, like snakes, spiders, or pigeons for example. Specific phobias can also refer to situations like thunderstorms, medical procedures, flying or vomiting for example. Phobias can lead to avoidant behaviours and cause severe distress and impairment in functioning in daily life.

As outlined in the DSM-5, the criteria for a specific phobia diagnosis means the symptoms need to have been present for at least six months, significantly affect the person’s day-to-day life and not be due to any other mental health condition. The symptoms of a specific phobia are:

  • Unreasonable or excessive and persistent, intense fear triggered by a specific object or situation.
  • Immediate anxiety response that is out of proportion to the actual danger and appears almost instantaneously when presented with the object or situation.
  • Avoidance of the object or situation or endures extreme distress to the object or situation
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterised by recurring, uncontrollable, and unwanted intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours or rituals (compulsions) in which individuals engage to rid themselves of these thoughts.

Examples of common compulsions include washing hands or cleaning the house excessively for fear of germs, checking work repeatedly for errors, repeating mental phases, counting and constant ordering and rearranging. These obsessions and compulsions significantly impact on the way you live your life and causes distress. People often act on the compulsion to decrease their level of stress and if they don’t act on the compulsion, the urge usually returns, leading to a ritual. This becomes the vicious cycle of OCD. People with OCD often feel very isolated, misunderstood and experience difficulties in relationships. They can feel ashamed, embarrassed and frustrated.

Post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety that develops after a person is exposed to severe physical or emotional trauma. Thoughts, feelings and behavioural patterns become seriously affected by reminders of the event, such as intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and emotional distress, sometimes months or even years after the traumatic experience.
Social anxiety disorder
Experiencing some concern about social interactions is common, as is overthinking what you are going to say or what you did say. Being nervous in social situations is normal.

Social anxiety disorder is a mental health condition where individuals experience extreme fear and avoidance of social situations due to concerns about judgement, embarrassment, or humiliation. People with social anxiety disorder tend to have a desire to connect with others, however, their anxiety can be unbearable. People often feel very isolated and rejected with social anxiety disorder. Some examples of situations people fear are going on a date, attending a job interview, or speaking in a group setting.

In the DSM-5 the criteria for social anxiety disorder means the distress is present for at least six months and includes:

  • Persistent and intense fear or anxiety about specific social situations where you believe you may be judged negatively, embarrassed or humiliated
  • Avoidance of anxiety-producing social situations or enduring them with intense fear or anxiety
  • Excessive anxiety that isn’t proportionate to the situation
  • Anxiety or significant distress that impacts on your daily living
  • Fear or anxiety that is not better explained by a medical condition, medication or substance abuse

Treatments available for anxiety disorders

Anxiety counselling and treatment can help you manage symptoms by providing a safe space to explore underlying causes, develop coping strategies, challenge negative patterns, learn relaxation techniques, and gain tools to effectively manage anxiety in daily life. During a counselling session, you can expect to engage in open and supportive discussions about your concerns, emotions, and experiences. Therapists attending Brisbane Counselling Centre understand, care and will listen, provide guidance, offer coping techniques, assisting you to develop strategies to manage your anxiety.

Common approaches used for treating anxiety disorders include Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, including EMDR, Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), Mindfulness-based therapy, and Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT).

The choice of approach will depend on individual needs as assessed and discussed by the psychologist or counsellor with you. Anxiety counselling commonly teaches strategies like relaxation skills, mindfulness practices, breathing techniques, and challenging irrational thoughts (cognitive restructuring) to help individuals manage, build resilience and develop coping skills. Your counsellor or psychologist at Brisbane Counselling Centre will develop a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.

Although medications can often be the first line of defence in the treatment of anxiety disorders, anxiety therapy (unlike anxiety medication) treats more than just the symptoms of the problem. Therapy for anxiety can help identify the underlying causes of the person’s worries and fears as well as empowering them with strategies to cope with future episodes, leading to the kind of life you wish to be living.

Help is available

If you can relate to any of these symptoms or life is challenging right now, we can help and support you at Brisbane Counselling Centre. Talking to a caring professional trained in anxiety and stress will really help to improve the quality of your life. Take the courageous step and reach out for help today.