FAQ: Anxiety

Words by Clinical Psychologist Gabriela Rocha

How common is anxiety? It is estimated that around 2 million Australians suffer with some type of anxiety disorder. So understanding and managing anxiety is an essential component of well-being. More specifically, it’s important to develop an understanding of the different ways anxiety can manifest, and what techniques are most helpful for each type.

What does anxiety feel like? The most common experience is the flight or fight response. This is caused by an increased activity of the sympathetic nervous system, causing an increase in muscle tension, shortness of breath, palpitations, sweatiness, etc. Other common signs include increased rumination (overthinking), difficulties falling asleep, headaches and back pain.

Another well-known manifestation is the freeze response. When in this happens, the body often presents with muscle weakness, fatigue, shallow breathing, headaches, nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea.

The last known expression is perhaps the most debilitating. When anxiety levels rise significantly it can trigger a response called Cognitive and Perceptual Disruption (CPD). As a result, the functioning of the frontal lobe and hippocampus become affected causing memory and concentration problems, difficulties thinking, reasoning, planning, organising and making decisions. Other symptoms include mild visual disturbances like “foggyness” or double vision, reactive behaviour, migraines and hallucinations (less common).

“Living with anxiety can be debilitating and greatly interfere in one’s quality of life. Understanding the different manifestations of anxiety and their particular management techniques are fundamental steps in living well.”

How can I help myself? 

Flight or fight response: Breathing techniques, light exercise, meditation, yoga, and massages ultimately work to reduce sympathetic activation and are considered most effective ways to manage anxiety in the fight of flight response. Other effective techniques involve changing the quality and quantity of the thinking process to target rumination levels.

Freeze response: Instead of using techniques that reduce sympathetic activation, when in the freeze response, techniques that increase sympathetic activation tend to be more effective.  This means, things like moderate to high intensity physical exercise.

Cognitive and Perceptual Disruption:  Reading or playing intellectually demanding games like sudoku or cross words puzzles help, are helpful here as as they activate the frontal lobe and hippocampus.


Gabriela Rocha is one of our Clinical Psychologists, read more about her here!