What is anxiety?

Anxiety is heightened worry and stress, relating to intense feelings of uneasiness or fear in response to real or imagined threats.

‘Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday’– Author Unkown

Anxiety is a response to stress that has both psychological and physical features. Anxiety prepares us to confront a crisis by putting the body on alert, this is known as the ‘fight or flight response’. For an animal in the wild under threat, this physiological response enables them to prepare for fighting or fleeing. For people today, this need for a fight or flight response is generally not often necessary for survival. The physical effects of this can be counterproductive, such as, light-headedness, nausea, diarrhoea, and frequent urination. When anxiety persists, it can take a toll on our mental and physical health.

Someone once asked me, “Can you tell me what anxiety is like?” I replied, “Let me ask you a question – when you fall, how far do you fall until you stop?” “Until I hit the bottom” “Anxiety is the feeling of constantly falling, but not going anywhere, and not knowing where the bottom is. Anxiety is feeling your heart racing as your mind goes into free fall, and your body is bracing for the impact as you try and catch your breath, through the fog that hides your view. But the impact never happens and the fall never slows down. Anxiety is like trying to catch your breath as you fall as the weight of your past becomes the weight of your future. Anxiety is like being stalked by all your fears at once. It’s that sudden fear of feeling you’re a prisoner as you caress your past back to life, waiting for your tormentor to mock you, never knowing that the person tormenting you… is yourself. Anxiety often doesn’t need a reason to come. It invites itself and stays without argument. Anxiety feeds on itself, and enjoys isolation”.

– Andre Jackson

Types and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder – heightened worry about most aspects of daily life that lasts for six months or more. Often accompanied by muscle pain, fatigue, headaches, nausea, breathlessness and insomnia.
  • Phobias – Unreasonable fear of specific things or situations, e.g. spiders (arachnophobia), being in crowds (agoraphobia), or being in enclosed spaces (claustrophobia).
  • Social anxiety disorder (social phobia)- Overwhelming self-consciousness in ordinary social encounters, exaggerated by a feeling of being watched, judged, or embarrassed by others.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – memories of an intense physical or emotional threat or injury, e.g. childhood abuse, combat, or an earthquake, in vivid dreams, flashbacks, or tormented recollections. Other symptoms could be sleeping or concentration difficulties, angry outbursts, emotional withdrawal, or an exaggerated startle response.
  • Obsessive/compulsive disorder (OCD)-Obsessive thoughts and irrational fear accompanied by compulsive acts performed to alleviate the anxiety generated by the thoughts, e.g. repetitive hand washing.
  • Panic Disorder-Recurrent times of unprompted feelings or terror or impending doom, accompanied by sweating, dizziness or weakness.

‘When I am anxious it is because I am living in the future. When I am depressed it is because I am living in the past.’ – Author Unknown

or further information or support:

  • Parent to Parent New Zealand (NZ):
  • Anxiety New Zealand: Anxiety Related Websites, Ministry of Health, NZ: Support Groups, Mental Health Foundation of NZ:
  • Altogether Autism, NZ:
  • Beyond Blue, Australia:
  • AnxietyBC, Canada:

‘Fear is a darkroom where negatives develop.’ Usman B. Asif

Susan Findlay (BTchg)
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