“How I cope with anxiety”
It affects one in four of us, but the road to recovery from the country’s most common mental health condition can be as individual as the sufferers themselves.
Researchers have been shocked to discover one in five Australians believes people experiencing anxiety are “putting it on” to avoid uncomfortable situations.
The most terrifying thing about this figure?
One quarter of us will experience anxiety at some point ourselves.
“It is frustrating that the misconceptions are still out there,” admits beyondblue chief executive Georgie Harman. “Because anxiety isn’t just feeling stressed or worried, it’s about when those feelings don’t subside and are ongoing without any particular reason or cause.”
To illustrate just how different the battle can be, three sufferers have bravely shared their stories about how they cope with anxiety.
Lisa Cox, 36, business owner/writer
“When I was 24, I contracted a virus that led to a brain haemorrhage. I spent three weeks in a coma, followed by two months on life support and when I began my process of recovery, they discovered that among the side effects of my permanent brain injury (which included epilepsy, fatigue and memory loss), were panic attacks.
Although I suffered them for some time, my GP made a formal diagnosis four years ago and I have since learnt to be regimented about my lifestyle to avoid triggers, which for me include food, heat and lack of sleep. I tried standard medications but quickly found not only did they not work for me, their side effects were horrible.
Eventually, I found an integrative approach combining the expertise of my neurologists and naturopaths, along with St John’s Wort and lifestyle interventions was the ticket.
Today I feel fantastic and have signed on to be an ambassador for Synapse – The Brain Injury Association where I work to try to remove the stigma around anxiety. Yes, anxiety can be a part of your life, but it doesn’t have to be a huge part.”
Hollie Azzopardi, 26, wellness coach
“I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. In fact, some of my earliest memories when I was six or seven were of panic attacks, though it wasn’t until I was 11 that I was diagnosed, after my mother rushed me to the hospital because I felt like my throat was closing in. I don’t know that anyone was surprised that I had it – my father suffers from anxiety, too, and his side of the family has a long history of it. Anxiety has a strong genetic link.
I think there’s a real misconception that anxious people are depressed, but this is not the case. I’m actually a very happy, positive person. I don’t sit around hating on life; it’s just that I’m constantly filled with fear that has no logic behind it.
Last year my panic attacks got so bad I developed (the chronic condition) adrenal fatigue and ended up bedridden for weeks. But at the moment, things are going well. I’m treating my anxiety through a combination of herbal supplements, meditation and breathing, and dietary changes (I’ve dropped caffeine and alcohol and bulked up the protein). I know I’ll probably always have anxiety, but I’m getting better every day at controlling it.”
Alecia Staines, 32, teacher
“I suffered with anxiety for four long years before I was diagnosed formally last year. I thought I was experiencing stress, but the psychologist who was treating me for post-traumatic stress disorder said, ‘You can’t breathe – it’s anxiety’.
That was a big breakthrough for me. I was experiencing the symptoms – getting really short of breath, not sleeping, becoming agitated and isolating myself from others, but although I could tell something was happening to my body, I just didn’t know what it was.
Fortunately my psychologist is a big believer in educating patients about how the brain works so together we developed a plan that centred around mindfulness, self-awareness and breathing.
From there I began practising yoga, which I find also helps through both its postures and its deep, focused breathing. Do I still suffer from anxiety? Yes, but I’ve become a lot better at identifying and avoiding triggers. And, now that I have the right tools, I can control the severity.”
Signs to watch for
A number of risk factors have been found that may contribute to people developing anxiety.
Beyondblue says, for some, it may be a genetic predisposition or other factors such as personality issues and adverse life experiences.
Common triggers can include work stress or a job change, pregnancy and giving birth, relationship problems, emotional and, or physical trauma or a change in living arrangements.
Beyondblue says it is important to remember that everyone is different and it is critical to recognise the signs and symptoms, and seek the appropriate advice and support.