A highly treatable condition once recognised, anxiety can interfere with a person’s everyday life

Tess Gibney

Anxiety is something many of us know all too well. Perhaps one of the most integral of all human emotions, it is that familiar feeling of fear or dread that sends our hearts racing and our heads spinning. Generally situational or related to a specific topic, a normal sense of anxiousness is necessary – and, in some cases, even constructive. It can offer one the unusual benefit of observation – by feeling distress, we can attempt to adapt by devising solutions to overcome that distress and move forward.

For those people that suffer from a more pervasive kind of worry, however, the accompanying emotions and physiological symptoms are often so strong there is no possibility of respite. Paralysed by persistent (often undefined) fear and unable to rationalise the flood of concern, a person’s life may become ultimately consumed – meaning they are no longer capable of functioning as they normally would in both social and work environments.

Karli Beswick, clinical psychologist and facilitator of the Mental Health Association’s new community anxiety support group in Ryde, explains that rudimentary ‘worry’ becomes something more when it begins to interfere with someone’s everyday life.

“Though there are many types of anxiety disorders with differing symptoms, anxiety becomes a disorder when it has a disabling impact on someone’s day to day life. This could range from having negative impacts on somebody’s ability to function at work or school, or impacting on relationships and activities,” Beswick says.

A myriad of disorders come under the umbrella term of anxiety; including (but not limited to) social anxiety, panic disorder, generalised anxiety, separation anxiety, hypochondria, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Though excessive anxiety is the most common psychiatric complaint in the nation (14 per cent of people are affected by an anxiety disorder at some stage in their life), the fuzzy distinction between what is considered ‘normal’ and what is not means many people fail to identify when they – or their loved ones – may be suffering from something more sinister.

Dr Brain Gaetz, Beyondblue’s general manager of research, childhood and youth, said that our collective lack of understanding of what constitutes an anxiety disorder may be due to anxiety’s low public profile. As we get better at reaching out and seeking help for episodes of depression and [other] mental illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia, our recognition of when worry becomes atypical continues to go unnoticed.

“Anxiety has sort of been something that hasn’t been on the consciousness of the Australian public as much as it should be for the toll that it takes on a number of people,” Gaetz says.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years people have become familiarised to the condition of depression … people can generally recognise two to three symptoms of depression. Anxiety they’re generally not so familiar with. I think partly it’s about public education around the different types of anxiety and the experiences that people have.”

In May 2013, Beyondblue launched a landmark national awareness campaign to help Australians recognise the common symptoms of anxiety. Titled the ‘Get to Know Anxiety Campaign’, the initiative centred on a short film featuring acclaimed Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn. In the film, Mendelsohn personifies anxiety, and urges the audience to reach out for help once they’ve recognised symptoms.

Lack of public awareness and the absence of a clear demarcation of when a disorder begins means people suffering from acute anxiety often come to see the condition as simply a facet of their personality. They may think of themselves as a neurotic worrier, or, like Australian actor and Beyondblue ambassador Garry McDonald, “a bit of a wuss” who was experiencing things everyone else did but was “unable to handle it”.

“People have the opinion that it’s just mind over matter. You know; you’re a bit nervous, or you’re just a ‘nervous nelly’. For some people, it’s just so overwhelming it cannot be confined to a simple case of mind over matter,” Gaetz says.

Like all manifestations of mental illness, sufferers may fear stigmatisation – making them reluctant to reach out for help. Karli Beswick says support groups such as the one at Ryde can help people to talk about their problems by providing an informal, supportive group setting.

The support group aims to provide a safe place where people experiencing anxiety can come to connect with others, share their experiences and discuss strategies which have assisted them. Meeting with other people who have also experienced difficulties with anxiety can be extremely reassuring and constructive in reducing feelings of isolation.”

A highly treatable condition once recognised, Beyondblue CEO Kate Cornell said in a statement last year: “We hope by informing Australians about anxiety symptoms, they can identify it, get help and get better. You have to know anxiety to be free from it.”

The Ryde Anxiety Support group is free of charge and runs every 4th Tuesday of the month at 6:00pm. It is located at Club Ryde, 724 Victoria Rd, Ryde. Call 1300 794 992before attending your first meeting; bookings not essential. Group facilitator: Karli Beswick.


Common symptoms of anxiety includes

  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Racing heart
  • Tightening of the chest
  • Snowballing worries
  • Obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour.