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Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling that people can have when they are faced with challenges, or situations they are worried about. Feeling anxious for short periods of time, from time to time is normal and can help you do well. Anxiety can get out of hand though and you may need help.


Signs of anxiety

Physical signs of anxiety can include: sweating, shaking, hot and cold flushes, a racing heart, a dry mouth, fast breathing, an urge to go to the toilet, muscle tension and difficulty concentrating. You may have difficulty sleeping or relaxing. In most people these feelings are temporary.

Anxiety disorders are when anxious feelings are present much of the time, even when there is no obvious cause for them. A person may be continually uncomfortable and tense. Anxiety disorders are likely to be diagnosed when the anxiety and feelings of panic get in the way of normal life and stop people doing what they want to do.

You can find out more about anxiety disorders on the Beyondblue website

What causes anxiety?

The causes vary and it's not always easy to work out. Anxiety disorders tend to 'run in families' which may be due to genetics, and may be because a child learns anxious behaviours from their family. People who are easily upset, very sensitive and emotional, who are shy and inhibited as children are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder. Biochemical differences within the brain may also play a part.

Types of anxiety disorders

Generalised anxiety disorder
The main symptom is excessive and persistent worry, being easily tired, having difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension and sleep problems.

Panic disorder
People can experience panic at times when most people would not be afraid. They can fear that the panic attack will lead to death or totally losing control. When the panic has gone, there is an ongoing fear that the panic will come back, which can stop people going out in public or going to places where they have had a panic attack. Young people who get panic attacks may have had trouble with fear when they were away from their parents when they were younger (separation anxiety).

People with agoraphobia fear experiencing anxiety or panic attacks when they go out to public places. They may avoid leaving their home for a long time.

Separation anxiety disorder
This type of anxiety disorder is more of a problem for children and younger people. They may feel extremely distressed when left at school or kindy. Sometimes they feel very scared that someone close to them (like their parent) might leave or be killed in a car accident or murdered or kidnapped. They may show their anxiety by crying and clinging or physical symptoms such as tummy pain, and they often have nightmares about separation. These children may refuse to go to school because their anxiety is causing them to feel unwell.

There is more about this in the topic 'Separation anxiety' on the Parenting and Child Health part of this site.

Phobias are intense fears about things or situations that then interfere with life. Someone who has a phobia about spiders can become extremely distressed and may have a panic attack when they see a spider.

Social phobia
People with social phobia fear that other people will judge everything that they do negatively so that they either try to make sure that everything that they do in front of someone else is perfect or they avoid contact with others. Young people with a social phobia may refuse to go to school or to talk with people of the opposite sex.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder
People with this disorder have constant unwanted thoughts or compulsive behaviours. They may feel the need to do things in a certain order, or do things often, such as cleaning, washing hands, or checking locks.

Post-traumatic stress disorder
People who have experienced a major trauma such as war, major motor vehicle accident, torture or personal violence may continue to feel extreme fear long after the event happened. They may have distressing memories that keep coming back, dreams, flashbacks or fear triggered by something that reminds them of the event.
See our topic Surviving trauma to learn more.

Getting help

Often people who have an anxiety disorder are reluctant to seek help because they are embarrassed, shy and avoid being with others.  

Things that can help:

Helping others

If you think you know someone with an anxiety disorder encourage them to seek help, just as they would for a physical problem. Saying things like ‘don’t worry so much’ and ‘you don’t have to be perfect’ will not be useful.


South Australia

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
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