It is normal to worry from time to time and everybody does at some stage; however, some worry more than others do. So how do you know if your worry level is clinically significant enough and you need to do something about it?
According to Professor Jennie Hudson, Director of Macquarie University’s Centre for Emotional Health, there are a few key signs to watch for, such as the inability to switch your worry off.
Often people have a low level of worry on a daily basis because of things happening in their lives – if their kids are experiencing difficulties at school, for instance. But it’s when you can’t turn it off that it becomes a problem, especially if it makes it difficult to pay attention at work, she says.
The level of distress that the worry causes is also another key sign to look out for as this affects your ability to function normally on a daily basis.
It’s not unusual to worry about something for a couple of days but it’s becoming a problem if it’s regular and persistent and you reach a point where you can’t sleep or can’t eat or are feeling very low – or if other people are beginning to notice how stressed you are, Hudson says. People often think that worrying is a way of solving problems, but it’s not active problem solving – it just leaves you stuck in a worry loop.
Another key sign is avoidance of certain situations that make us feel uneasy. This coping mechanism can be detrimental as it can restrict our lifestyle and may be barrier from activities that are beneficial to us.
Some people set up their lives in a way that lets them avoid the things that make them anxious – anxiety about people looking at them, for example – so they never do a presentation for work, never catch public transport or they avoid going to parties,” she says.
If you do find that these symptoms fit with you, you are not alone. Anxiety is the most common mental health problem in Australia and it affects one in four people at some point. The numbers are slightly higher for women at one in three people and slightly lower for men at one in five people. There is treatment available such as self-help books to start; however having someone to support you is often a lot more effective.
But that ‘someone’ needs to use the right approach – Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) an evidence-based approach which helps to shift problematic thinking and which is the gold standard for treating anxiety, she explains. Finding a psychologist in your area who uses CBT is one option – the Australian Psychological Society can help here. Accessing CBT online is another. One program is MindSpot a free online service developed by Macquarie University for people with stress, anxiety, low mood or depression. Another is the MoodGYM, set up by the Australian National University’s National Institute for Mental Health Research. For children with anxiety there’s Cool Kids Online (7-12 year olds) and Chilled Plus Online (12 to 17-year-olds) both at the Centre for Emotional Health.
Anti-anxiety medications are also an option however, unlike CBT treatments; medications do not teach effective strategies to manage anxiety and are only effective in the short term. It is important to medicate if it has reached a point beyond your control, however it is beneficial in the long run to be able to manage anxiety with strategies that you can enforce at any point in the future if required.