All of us feel anxious at times. It is the normal response to a threat or potential threat to ourselves or those we care about. All of us become anxious. This page is not about normal anxiety but what are known as anxiety disorders.

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders relate to the experience of anxiety where the threat is unreal or irrational, or where the degree of anxiety is disabling or painful.

What causes anxiety disorders?

There is a complex set of causes including our genetic inheritance, personality and the events we have been exposed to in the course of our lives.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are several types of anxiety disorders:

  • Some people suffer from more than one and sometimes anxiety and depression occur together
  • One form of anxiety disorder is to suffer from repeated panic attacks (see below)
  • Another is a crippling fear of social situations
  • Some people worry themselves sick over a host of minor matters and still others have strong irrational fears related to specific objects and situations (like travelling on escalators)
  • Some people have obsessive fears (like the presence of germs) which lead them into endlessly repeated behaviours (like hand washing).

Reading this last paragraph you may have noticed some similarity with your own anxieties – and we all have them to some degree. But the important issue is whether or not they cripple your life and cause you considerable pain and discomfort.

More on panic attacks

The symptoms of a panic attack are intense and highly unpleasant. Common symptoms include:

  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Tingling in the limbs
  • The need to escape
  • Acute shortness of breath
  • Choking
  • Believing that you are dying.

Panic attacks may come on for no apparent reason or only under certain circumstances. It is estimated that 30% of the population will experience at least one panic attack although only around 2% develop Panic Disorder.

Helping a family member

  1. Remember that anxiety disorders are real forms of illness. They are not a sign of weakness nor can the sufferer snap out of it.
  2. Someone suffering from an anxiety disorder can place considerable strain on the rest of the family.
  3. An anxiety disorder should always be diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional.
  4. Once the disorder is diagnosed learn as much as you can about it.
  5. Modify your expectations and encourage the sufferer.
  6. Keep your routine as normal as possible.
  7. Seek support and understanding for yourself and the rest of the family.

Anxiety and the workplace

A colleague suffering from depression or from an anxiety disorder is not “mad” or weak. Give the same understanding as you would to one with a physical disease or disability.


Anxiety disorders are treatable. Many sufferers do not seek treatment and lead unnecessarily impaired lives. Three forms of treatment are used:

  • Counselling - a form of counselling which is known to be most effective is Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
  • Relaxation - relaxation methods can help to diminish some of the physical symptoms.
  • Medication - anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication can be very helpful for many sufferers.

Where to get help

Your AVA Telephone Counselling Service counsellor can arrange for a specialist referral to an appropriate and convenient treatment agency.

Your family doctor may be able to assist with medication and referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist in your area.

How the AVA can help

Source: Converge International, provider of the AVA Telephone Counselling Service

In need of emergency help?

Help is available at any time, day or night on Lifeline 13 11 14 and the AVA Counselling Service 1300 687 327.