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Learning Reflection: Notes on Anxiety


Anxiety is the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event. A certain level of anxiety helps us stay alert and aware, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder, it feels far from normal – it can be completely debilitating.


Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety


There are many anxiety-related disorders, and they are divided into three main categories:

  1. Anxiety disorders: Anxiety disorders are characterized by a general feature of excessive fear (i.e. emotional response to perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (i.e. worrying about a future threat) and can have negative behavioral and emotional consequences.
  2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts (e.g., constantly worrying about staying clean, or about one’s body size) that are trigger related; to compulsive behaviors (e.g. repeated hand-washing, or excessive exercise). These behaviors are performed to alleviate the anxiety associated with obsessive thoughts.
  3. Trauma and stress-related Disorder: Trauma- and stressor-related anxiety disorders are related to the experience of trauma (e.g., unexpected death of a loved one, a car accident, or a violent incident like war or sexual assault) or stressor (e.g., divorce, loss of loved ones, moving).


The causes of anxiety disorders aren’t fully understood. Life experiences such as traumatic events appear to trigger anxiety disorders in people who are already prone to anxiety. Anxiety is not always related to an underlying condition. It may be caused by:

  • Stress that can result from work, school, personal relationship
  • Emotional trauma
  • Financial concerns
  • Stress caused by a chronic or serious medical condition
  • A major event or performance
  • A side effect of certain medications
  • Alcohol drug consumption
  • Lack of oxygen

These factors may increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder:

  1. Trauma: Individual who endured abuse or trauma or witnessed traumatic events is at higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder at some point in life. Adults who experience a traumatic event also can develop anxiety disorders.
  2. Stress due to an illness: Having a health condition or serious illness can cause significant worry about issues such as your treatment and your future.
  3. Stress build-up: A big event or a build-up of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety, for example, a death in the family, work stress, or ongoing worry about finances.
  4. Personality: People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.
  5. Other mental health disorders: People with other mental health disorders, such as depression, often also have an anxiety disorder.
  6. Having blood relatives with an anxiety disorder: Anxiety disorders can run in families.
  7. Drugs or alcohol: Drug or alcohol use or misuse or withdrawal can cause or worsen anxiety.


Having an anxiety disorder does more than just worry. It can also lead to, or worsen, other mental and physical conditions, such as:

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders
  • Substance misuse
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Digestive or bowel problems
  • Headaches and chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Problems functioning at school or work
  • Poor quality of life
  • Suicide

Written by Srjana / Student, Certificate IV in Mental Illness

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