Anxiety - 25% of Australians have it, so it’s worth talking about!

Earlier this month was OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Anxiety Awareness week in Victoria. However, with nearly 240,000 people in Western Australia experiencing anxiety this year it seems really important to talk about anxiety disorders here as well.

The best way to learn about someone is to take the time to listen to their story, the best way to understand someone is to step into their shoes. It is important for all of us to feel understood, this way we break down barriers and we find solutions. August brings a time to build our awareness of anxiety disorders, so, first, we went looking for real people’s descriptions of what anxiety feels like:

In one article from The Independent a woman explained the constant feeling of being anxious ‘as if she tripped and the moment where you don't know if you are going to catch yourself or not is how she felt all day long', and someone else describes ‘[It’s like] when you tap your pocket to get your wallet, and it is not there (and like the woman above said), it’s like that all the time.’

Photo by  Ahmad Odeh  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ahmad Odeh on Unsplash

A woman named Bex, from a digital health community ‘The Mighty’, captures the self-defeating turmoil of anxiety with ‘It’s like having super powers but having no control over them. It’s the strength of the Hulk, but it comes out as anger. It’s Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, but you can’t choose when you get to wear it. It’s wanting to be as brave as Batman, but being too afraid to leave the bat cave. It’s knowing you are a superhero, but you are stuck in a body/mind that won’t let you. It’s wanting to save the world, but you can’t even save yourself.’

There are a lot of people in Australia that experience these overwhelming symptoms of anxiety, at least one in 10 people you know will be diagnosed this year, and around one in 5 Australians in their lifetime.  It is common, and is ‘highly comorbid’ – a daunting medical term that means anxiety is frequently found in cahoots with so many other challenging health concerns, and other anxiety disorders – obsessive compulsive disorder; social phobia; depression; eating disorders; post-traumatic stress disorder; substance abuse disorders; chronic pain and vertigo (to name but a few). This complicates the lived experience for those suffering, and leads to descriptions of daily life like ‘I’m scared, guilty, angry, exhausted. I’m on the edge, or surrounded by, panic, all night and all day’.

We understand why unique individuals facing the daily battle of anxiety every day may feel this way, because we understand what may be going on in your body and brain. We respect that your lived experience is something only you, and perhaps other people with anxiety, may truly understand. We believe you, and we want you to feel equipped to be your own superhero again.

A large European meta-analysis, looking at all the data from loads of quality studies to find the common ground, found that guided self-help can be as effective as face-to-face treatments for anxiety and depression. Guided self-help may include books or online options, who is guiding you is an important factor. Seeking and using recognised expertise and peer-reviewed programs is a determinant of success, unfortunately these can be shrouded in a sea of market driven (at times bizarre) ideas. A dedicated Team of Clinicians at St Vincent’s Hospital NSW, funded by the Australian Government, are continually developing empowering learning programs for individuals experiencing stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression: The programs have been designed so that they can be utilised independently or with the option of online clinical support.

Online support may also come from informed peers who share the lived experience of anxiety. Neil Hughes (comedian, author, and physicist) lived with anxiety for years before he had a strange realisation: anxiety is just like custard! This surprising pudding-based insight led to a new approach to his mental health: 

Walking on custard is a powerful analogy for the feeling of anxiety. Walking itself, in a place you find pleasure, is a less squishy solution. Exercise and relaxation training are becoming increasingly recognised by medical doctors as evidence based treatment options. We value highly the evidence that supports both of these options.

It can be so helpful to get real information about what are bodies are doing, how we are responding to feelings of being anxious or in a state of panic. We breathe differently, our hearts pump faster, we sweat, our muscles are tense…bodies set to freeze or fly. Biofeedback training, at Perth Brain Centre, is a remarkable way to tune in to our bodies responses, learn more about ourselves and start to rewire these responses using targeted techniques that are meaningful to the individual. Biofeedback builds resilience and empowers us with deepening knowledge of ourselves, but it does not stop at knowing, it provides practical positive action, gets you back in touch with using your extraordinary abilities.

Along with person-centred biofeedback training, The Perth Brain Centre focuses on providing Neurofeedback Therapy, which was featured in Dr. Norman Doidge’s book The Brain’s Way of Healing, the sequel to his international best-selling book ‘The Brain That Changes Itself’, as an effective treatment for anxiety.

Neurofeedback is a brain-based treatment that uses a sophisticated brain-computer interface to ‘strengthen’ or retrain the brain. The Perth Brain Centre uses special brain scans, called QEEG, to pin-point the specific ‘problem’ areas of an individuals brain. In many cases of anxiety there is too much fast brain activity in regions of the brain involved with stress and emotion. Neurofeedback can reduce the symptoms of anxiety by ‘strengthening’ or retraining this ‘weak’ part of the brain by normalising brainwave activity. Sounds almost super-human, but QEEG and neurofeedback has been extensively validated and used in the treatment of anxiety for decades.

Perth Brain Centre has a highly skilled Team of health professionals with wide ranging experience in the treatment of anxiety (and other mood disorders) through brain based interventions, like neurofeedback and biofeedback, targeted to drive neuroplasticity in a positive direction. If it is time for you to seek help and would like to speak with a friendly Practitioner to find out more information, please do not hesitate to call 6500 3277,  check out, or come along to one of our regular information evenings (details on the website).

About the author - Emily Goss, OT. Senior Clinician, The Perth Brain Centre.

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