Anxiety Disorders

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What are Anxiety Disorders?
An anxiety disorder is a medical condition characterised by persistent, excessive worry.

Anxiety disorders can take a number of forms. Common to all of these is an anxiety so distressing, it can interfere with a person’s ability to carry out or take pleasure in day-to-day life.

A person may experience more than one anxiety disorder. Some people may also experience depression with the anxiety, or have problems with alcohol or drug abuse.

What are the symptoms?

A person with an anxiety disorder will feel distressed a lot of the time for no apparent reason. An episode can be so severe it is immobilising. The person might have –

  • persistent, excessive or unrealistic worries (generalised anxiety disorder)
  • compulsions and obsessions which they can't control (obsessive compulsive disorder)
  • intense excessive worry about social situations (social anxiety disorder)
  • panic attacks (panic disorder)
  • an intense, irrational fear of everyday objects and situations (phobia)

Other symptoms of anxiety disorders may include a pounding heart; difficulty breathing; upset stomach; muscle tension; sweating or choking; feeling faint or shaky.

What causes Anxiety Disorders?

The causes are not fully understood. It is likely that a particular anxiety disorder is a result of several interacting factors and is affected by stressful life events and personality traits.

How many people develop Anxiety Disorders?

Every year, around 14% of all adult Australians are affected by an anxiety disorder. Women are affected more than men.

How is anxiety treated?

Treatment can help people manage, reduce or even eliminate the symptoms associated with anxiety disorders. Diagnosis is generally made by a GP. Treatment can be provided by the doctor, or they may give a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other suitably-qualified health professional. Psychological therapy is an effective treatment for most people affected by anxiety disorders. Medication may also be helpful for a while. With the appropriate treatment and support, most people can learn to deal with their symptoms and get on with their lives again.

How do I find out more?

It is important to ask your doctor about any concerns you have.

SANE Australia also produces a range of easy-to-read publications and multimedia resources on mental illness.

For more information about this topic see:

Anxiety Disorders: SANE DVD Kit
Includes the 'SANE Guide to Anxiety Disorders' and a 32 minute DVD in which people affected and those who care for them talk about symptoms, treatments, and what you can do to help yourself.

SANE Guide to Anxiety Disorders

Explains what these conditions are, how treatments for anxiety work, and suggests practical steps to look after yourself as well as what family and friends can do to help.

SANE Guide to Medication and other Treatments

Explains how all the different aspects of treatment work, by looking at clinical care, medication, support in the community and helping yourself.

To order visit the SANE Bookshop at or call 1800 18 SANE (7263)

SANE Australia . . . Anxiety Disorders

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This Factsheet may be freely downloaded, copied and distributed on condition no change is made to the contents. SANE Australia is not responsible for any actions taken as a result of information or opinions contained in the Factsheet. [Version English, 2014)