Learn about the signs and symptoms of anxiety and what can cause anxiety so that you can get the support you need.
What is anxiety?
It is normal to feel anxious every now and then. If you feel jittery or nervous before public speaking, going on a date, dinner with the in-laws, or attending a job interview – that’s quite normal. Many people get ‘butterflies’ in their stomach before doing something that is stressful. These feelings are usually short-lived and go away once the event is over.
Anxiety is when those negative feelings last for a long time. The constant worry either doesn’t go away or you start to feel it for seemingly no specific reason.
You might find that these anxious feelings happen so often, or are so intense, that they affect your day-to-day life. Having anxiety may start to strain your relationships and your health.
Types of anxiety disorders
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions in Australia. According to the latest mental health data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 3.4m Australians had a 12-month anxiety disorder during 2020-22.
A person who has severe anxiety can be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder by a health professional. There are different types of anxiety disorders, and a person can have more than one. Below are some of the more common anxiety disorders in Australia:
- Generalised anxiety disorder
- Social anxiety disorder (also called social phobia)
- Panic disorder
- Perinatal, antenatal and postnatal anxiety
Anxiety is also present in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
“It’s normal to feel worried about stressful situations. However, if the anxiety stays with you after the situation or event has passed, it can start to affect your day-to-day life.”
Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety symptoms may not be the same for everyone, and it may also depend on the type of anxiety you are experiencing.
We have compiled some of the more common anxiety symptoms and divided them into three distinct areas: emotional symptoms (what you are feeling), physical symptoms (what you are experiencing), and behavioural symptoms (what you are doing).
Common symptoms of anxiety – emotional
- Worrying about the past or future
- Feeling nervous
- Panicking or fearing the worst
- Trouble concentrating and focusing
- Difficulty calming down
- Getting irritated easily
- Feeling tense
Common symptoms of anxiety – physical
- Rapid breathing
- Pounding heart
- Upset stomach
- Muscle aches
- Crying often or uncontrollably
Common symptoms of anxiety – behavioural
- Avoiding stressful situations
- Skipping activities you once enjoyed
- Staying away from crowded places
- Avoiding making decisions
- Avoiding friends and family
If you have anxiety symptoms, you may start to think that you can’t handle your feelings or that things are not going your way. Remember that anxiety can be treated and there is help available. You can speak to your GP, a health professional or call 1300 651 251 to speak to a SuicideLine Victoria counsellor.
Causes of anxiety
Anxiety can be caused by a number of risk factors – there is usually a combination of things in a person’s life that can lead to anxiety. It can be caused by a stressful or traumatic event, your family history of mental health, or by physical health problems you are experiencing. We have compiled some of the common risk factors that can cause anxiety.
Common causes of anxiety – stressful situations
- Stressful time at work
- Changing jobs
- Losing your job
- Financial worries
- Relationship problems
- A major life event (e.g. having a new baby, moving to a new city)
Common causes of anxiety – traumatic events
- Grieving the loss of a loved one
- Experiencing coercive control
- Experiencing abuse (verbal, emotional, physical or sexual)
- Experiencing a traumatic event
- Witnessing a traumatic event
Common causes of anxiety – mental health
Anxiety can develop when you have another mental health illness. For example, you may have depression and anxiety at the same time. A history of anxiety in your family may also contribute to it (but this doesn’t mean that you will develop anxiety).
Commons causes of anxiety – physical health
Living with a chronic illness (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, asthma) and managing the impact on your daily life can lead to having anxiety symptoms.
Getting help for anxiety
Anxiety can be complex, and sometimes you won’t be able to identify the cause of your anxiety, but you can get help. If you have symptoms of anxiety, don’t leave it untreated, as this may cause your anxiety to worsen over time. You can make an appointment with your GP who can conduct a mental health assessment, create a mental health treatment plan, and provide a referral to see a psychologist. If you already have a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist, speak to them about your anxiety and be honest with how you are coping.
Depending on the severity of your anxiety, there are some self-help strategies you can do to help manage your anxiety. These include positive self-talk, eating healthy foods, regular exercise, mindfulness, relaxation and breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and avoiding alcohol.
SuicideLine Victoria counsellors can also help you work through your anxiety. Call us on 1300 651 251 or click the floating chat button on the right to chat with a counsellor online. You do not need a referral to use our service.
If you are experiencing perinatal anxiety, PANDA has a national helpline that is available on weekdays for expecting and new parents – call 1300 726 306. For more information, visit their website.
If it is an emergency, please call 000.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2020-2022). National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. ABS. https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/latest-release.