Anxiety is a prevalent mental health condition in Australia (Lawrence et al., 2015). On average, one in four people experiences anxiety at some stage in their life (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). Student Wellbeing Officer Kathryn Harvey explains what the literature is telling us.
Anxiety disorders often present during adolescence (Lawrence et al., 2015). According to Kessler et al. (2005), the median age of onset for anxiety disorders is 11 years, which is before early adolescence. In Australia, one in 14 adolescents meets the diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder (Lawrence et al., 2015).
Intermittent and situational anxiety is normal and can occur prior to exams, public speaking, or when faced with a threat or danger. Anxiety can improve performance (Strack, Lopes, Esteves, & Fernandez-Berrocal, 2017), however, for some individuals, anxiety becomes excessive and significantly affects day to day living (Essau, Lewinsohn, Olaya, & Seeley, 2014).
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2013), anxiety is “an emotion characterised by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure”. The main features of anxiety include excessive fear and related psychosocial symptoms; for example, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, panic, mood swings, despair, dissociation and flashbacks to a traumatic event (APA, 2013).
Disordered anxiety tends to be chronic, often interfering with life, such as impairing memory and concentration (Fernández Castillo & Caurcel, 2015). Anxiety symptoms can occur for no specific reason and can be challenging to manage (Hudson & McKinnon, 2017).
People with anxiety disorders may avoid certain situations, with many experiencing physical symptoms such as sweating, trembling, dizziness or a rapid heartbeat (Hudson & McKinnon, 2017). From a biological perspective, anxiety induces a heightened state of awareness to protect from threats. However, for those who are in a constant state of anxiety, their bodies never turn off the fight-flight response (Hudson & McKinnon, 2017).