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Anxiety is a normal human emotion. All of us feel anxious from time to time. Stress, worry, fear and panic are everyday words that we use to describe anxiety.

These experiences, by themselves are not unusual or abnormal, as they often represent normal reactions to challenging life circumstances. People also often experience anxiety at times of change (for example, changes in employment, relationships, or health) or when there is uncertainty (for example, worry about finances). For most people, these experiences are normal reactions.

1 - Unhelpful Thoughts:

Examples include: worrying about things that might happen, or things that have happened in the past. Having negative thoughts about oneself or the future.

2 - Physical Symptoms:

Examples include: rapid heart rate, feeling sweaty or hot, trembling, upset stomach, muscle tension, headaches and feeling irritable.

3 - Changes in Behaviour:

Changes in Behaviour: Examples include: avoiding events, places or people that trigger feelings of anxiety. We may only go places when accompanied by another person.

Because most of us occasionally feel anxious we can all recognise some of these symptoms. However, there are important differences between normal levels of anxiety and having an Anxiety Disorder.

Anxiety Disorders

In contrast to the normal and healthy experience of anxiety, anxiety disorders are characterised by clusters of defined symptoms of anxiety, which occur for an extended period (at least one month). Importantly, the threshold for describing a condition as an anxiety disorder requires identification that their symptoms significantly impair a person’s ability to perform usual activities. People with anxiety disorders often experience distressing and negative thoughts/beliefs, avoid situations and people who may trigger symptoms, and often experience strong physical symptoms.

Anxiety disorders are highly prevalent and estimated to affect 14% of the Australian adult population each year. In addition, a large number of Australians are affected by subclinical symptoms of anxiety disorders each year. Many people also have symptoms that increase and decrease over time.

Anxiety disorders often restrict what people feel able to do. Many people with mild symptoms of anxiety still work, study and have healthy relationships, but this may be more difficult for people with moderate and severe anxiety. Some people with severe symptoms of anxiety have difficulty leaving the house or being alone. Some people with anxiety symptoms become worried that they can’t control their anxiety, and may become worried that they will become isolated, lonely, or depressed. People with anxiety disorders also have a higher risk of depression and substance use problems than other people.

There are several different types of anxiety disorders. People may have symptoms of more than one type of anxiety disorder at a time.

Type of Anxiety Disorders

Type of Anxiety

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Core Symptoms

The core symptoms of GAD is excessive worry, that is, worrying much more than other people. People with GAD worry excessively about everyday things including their health, finances, work and family. People with GAD struggle to control their worry. They recognise that their worry is excessive and that it affects their quality of life.

People with GAD also often experience physical symptoms that include muscle tension, feeling irritable, headaches, difficulty concentrating, trouble relaxing, trouble sleeping, abdominal distress and difficulty making decisions.


GAD affects about 500,000 Australians.

Type of Anxiety

Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia).

Core Symptoms

The core symptom of Social Anxiety Disorder is excessive fear of being judged by others. Most people with Social Anxiety recognise that their fear is excessive compared to other people.

People with Social Anxiety often avoid social events or public places because of fear of embarrassment or humiliation. This avoidance can have a significant impact on the person’s ability to participate fully in their social or work life, and can affect their confidence and self-esteem.


About 1 million Australians have Social Anxiety Disorder each year.

Type of Anxiety

Panic Disorder and/or Agoraphobia.

Core Symptoms

The core symptom of Panic Disorder is excessive fear of having a panic attack. A panic attack is a short episode (about 10 minutes) during which a person experiences unpleasant and often terrifying physical symptoms. These symptoms often include a racing heart, dizziness, sweating, hyperventilation, chest pain and/or upset stomach. Because of these symptoms most people believe that they are going insane, having a heart attack or dying.

While most people will experience a panic attack at some time in their lives, people with Panic Disorder have excessive fear of having these episodes. People with Panic Disorder often also have Agoraphobia, which is when one avoids places because of worry that they will have a panic attack.


Approximately 500,000 Australians have Panic Disorder each year.

Type of Anxiety

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Core Symptoms

The core symptoms for all people with OCD are unwanted thoughts or mental images, which occur repeatedly. These are called obsessions. The content of the obsessions differs between people. Some people with OCD have obsessions about contamination, others have violent images, or unwanted sexual thoughts, or obsessions about losing control, or thoughts about religious rituals. People with OCD often feel very uncomfortable and distressed because of the obsessions.

To cope with the distress caused by the obsessions, many people with OCD (but not all) perform rituals called compulsions. Examples of compulsions include doing things like repeated washing and cleaning, checking things, or mental rituals.

International psychiatric classification systems have recently disagreed about whether OCD should be classified as an anxiety disorder. We continue to consider most forms of OCD as an Anxiety disorder due to the high levels of fear and distress resulting from the obsessions, and because OCD can often be effectively treated using psychological skills that help manage symptoms of other anxiety disorders.


OCD affects about 300,000 Australians each year.

Type of Anxiety

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Core Symptoms

People with PTSD have experienced or witnessed a very stressful or traumatic event. As a result, they experience long-term symptoms, which are distressing and affect their ability to live their lives the way they would like. These symptoms include distressing thoughts or nightmares about the traumatic event, sleep problems, feeling easily startled and on edge, becoming irritable and depressed, having difficulty concentrating and feeling unsafe. People with PTSD also often avoid people, places or other reminders of a traumatic event.

In addition to symptoms of anxiety, people with PTSD often also experience symptoms of depression such as feeling numb, tired, and lacking interest in doing things.

International psychiatric classification systems have recently disagreed about whether PTSD should be classified as an Anxiety Disorder. We continue to consider PTSD as an Anxiety Disorder due to the high levels of symptoms of fear and distress, and because PTSD can be effectively treated using psychological skills that help manage symptoms of other Anxiety Disorders.


About 1 million Australians experience PTSD every year.

Treating Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can be treated, regardless of age. We also know that people who have symptoms of anxiety, but do not have a full anxiety disorder, can still benefit from treatment. Early recognition and intervention can stop symptoms from becoming chronic and severe. Getting effective treatment often also has the effect of reducing symptoms of other psychological disorders, such as depression or substance use problems.

How Can PORTS Help?

PORTS provides expert assessment and treatment for people with symptoms of anxiety, stress, and worry, low mood, depression, and substance use problems. PORTS will conduct an assessment to determine the severity and type of symptoms people are experiencing, identify if someone has an anxiety disorder, and make recommendations about treatment. We will then either treat the person at PORTS, or help them access appropriate help.