Help… I’m feeling anxious

We all know what it is like to feel anxious: think about giving a speech to a room full of people … most of us feel nervous just at the thought!  In such situations, the experience of anxiety will usually pass after the event is over. Anxiety is a natural reaction to times of stress and can even be helpful, making us more alert and ready to act. However, if experienced at frequently high levels, anxiety can severely interfere with our ability to cope with work, study, or other daily requirements. In Australia, anxiety is increasingly becoming a problem for many people. According to Beyond Blue, in any 12-month period, approximately 14% of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder.We all know what it is like to feel anxious: think about giving a speech to a room full of people … most of us feel nervous just at the thought!  In such situations, the experience of anxiety will usually pass after the event is over. Anxiety is a natural reaction to times of stress and can even be helpful, making us more alert and ready to act. However, if experienced at frequently high levels, anxiety can severely interfere with our ability to cope with work, study, or other daily requirements. In Australia, anxiety is increasingly becoming a problem for many people. According to Beyond Blue, in any 12-month period, approximately 14% of Australians will be affected by an anxiety disorder.
The experience of anxiety includes physiological responses such as shortness of breath, increased heart rate, shaking, feeling nervous, agitated, and tense. Anxiety is often characterised by worry, intense feelings of stress, and a sense of impending doom. Often, we want to avoid circumstances which invoke anxiety. However, this can interfere with daily functioning and make our anxiety worse.
There are a lot of factors which contribute to high levels of anxiety. These include, increasing pressures and workload in our day-to-day lives, individual personality type, experiencing stressful events, physical health problems, other mental health problems and a family history of mental health conditions. There are also different forms of anxiety:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is experiencing worries that interfere with daily activities on a regular basis and doesn’t go away.
  •  Panic disorder is experiencing recurrent panic attacks.
  • Social anxiety disorder is characterised by extreme discomfort with social interactions, often leading to avoidance of social situations.
  • Phobias are marked by an excessive fear of a specific object or situation that generally is not harmful.
  • Separation anxiety disorder is an excessive fear of being separated from a close person, such as a parent.

The good news is that with appropriate help and treatment, anxiety disorders can be effectively managed. However, it’s important to know the symptoms of anxiety to recognise when professional help is needed. In my practice, I often see people who have experienced anxiety for a long time before seeking treatment. For example, Layla* presented for counselling after a long period of struggle. As a university student, she thought it was normal to be feeling stressed all time. She wasn’t sleeping well and often felt very tense and had tightness in her chest. Although she wanted to do well in her studies, she found herself avoiding going to classes and procrastinating with assignments, which was making the problem worse. It wasn’t until she was close to failing the semester that she decided it was time to seek help. It was her GP who diagnosed her with anxiety and referred her to counselling.
When Layla first came to see me, she was feeling overwhelmed all the time. The first step was to help her with strategies to calm herself, such as breathing, practising imagery techniques, and listening daily to the Qur’an. We also worked out ways for Layla to manage her time and reduce her procrastination. Over a number of sessions, Layla was also able to recognise the things which had contributed to her anxiety, including high expectations from her family. Although Layla’s family wanted the best for her, their push for her to succeed created high levels of pressure. Over time, Layla began to communicate better with her family about how she was feeling and express ways that they could effectively support her. Also, she learned to have more balanced and realistic expectations of herself. Although Layla still feels stressed at times, she is able to better manage her anxiety. She explained: “I’m a lot calmer now, and I’ve learned how to recognise when I’m getting overwhelmed and how to slow down so that things don’t build up to panic.”

For most people who experience anxiety, simple strategies can be very effective. Here are a few tips to assist in keeping anxiety in check:

  1. Be aware of unhelpful thinking: Internal self- talk characterised by unrealistic expectations or harsh self-criticism can contribute to anxiety. It is important to recognise these unhelpful thinking patterns and put things in perspective.
  2. Practice regular slow breathing techniques throughout the day: Even taking a few minutes per day to slow down and breathe can release feelings of tension.
  3. Breaking stressful tasks down into manageable steps: High levels of anxiety can make even daily activities seem overwhelming. Breaking tasks down in small steps can help to make things more manageable.
  4. Keep regular with prayer, dhikr, and reading the Quran: Nourishing your connection to Allah SWT through acts of worship is a vital part of maintaining a sense of calm.
  5. Seek support from others: Talking about your difficulties with someone you trust can help create social supports in coping with daily life.
  6. Consider accessing professional assistance: Seeking help from a psychologist can be necessary when anxiety is getting out of control.

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Lucy  Verwey

Lucy Verwey is a Melbourne-based psychologist. She works at Al-Taqwa College as the coordinator of the Counselling and Welfare Department and also works in private practice. She is currently completing her PhD in the area of Muslims and mental health. Lucy reverted to Islam over 20 years ago.  Lucy Verwey is a Melbourne-based psychologist. She works at Al-Taqwa College as the coordinator of the Counselling and Welfare Department and also works in private practice. She is currently completing her PhD in the area of Muslims and mental health. Lucy reverted to Islam over 20 years ago.  
lucyverwey@gmail 

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