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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How do I know if the anxiety I experience is considered normal?

    How do I know if the anxiety I experience is considered normal or if I should see a professional? I, personally, consider myself a very anxious and worrysome person. Although it hasn't interfered with my daily life, I often wonder if I should engage in therapy or medications. Advice?
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  • 3


    Dr Louise Shepherd

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a clinical psychologist with 15 years experience working with all sorts of goals and issues. I love working with people, helping them to … View Profile

    Good question and a commone one people struggle with I think. I can relate to it……I can be a bit of a worrier and get anxious more than some. To answer your question really simply I'd say it is a problem when it is a problem! I'm not trying to be silly….let me explain:

    Anxiety is a normal and healthy part of life. We all get anxious and in fact our bodies are designed to get anxious in some situations so that we can act to keep ourselves safe. So if you are about to cross a busy road without thinking and just as you are about to put your foot down you see out of the corner of your eye a car comign along quite fast your body will rapidly prepare you to get out of harm's way. This is called the “flight or fight” system and it can be lifesaving. In the days of sabre toothed tigers roaming around the caves of our ancestors you could quickly become dinner if you couldn't react very rapidly. 

    Jump forward to 2012 though and we don't live such dangerous lives! Sometimes we get nervous, worried, edgey, jumpy (call if what you like) because of what our mind tells us rather than a tiger or lion being on our case. For instance, “what if I fail the test?” or “What if she says no when i ask her out?” might be thoughts that can “scare” us if we take them very seriously.

    As a clinical psychologist I'm a big fan of working on issues that get in the way of us living a big and wonderful life. I believe that whilst we can't choose all the cards we are dealt in life we can choose what we do with them. If you feel like worrying and getting anxious stops you from living and loving big time then it might be worth either reading a book that might help or seeing someone to get some ideas on how to deal with the anxiety more effectively. 

    A book I'd recommend is “The happiness trap” by Dr Russ Harris - it is based on a wonderful approach called “Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” or ACT for short - otherwise making a time to see a clinical psychologist who has experience dealing wtih anxiety might be worth looking into.

    Personally I don't think medications are a great idea unless things are pretty bad and other approaches have been tried (just my opinion - but also what research seems to suggest)

    Very long answer sorry - hope it helped :-)

  • 2


    Damien Haines

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Damien Haines is a registered Clinical Psychologist who brings a warm and empathetic approach to therapy. He emphasises engagement in the world and encourages clients … View Profile

    I agree with Louise's points above. Your question seems to have two questions in it from how I read it.

    1. Is my anxiety normal (as compared to others experiences)
    2. I fear that it isn't, but am unsure if I need treatment anyway
    For the first question, you could just poll people. It's like setting up an experiment. You are testing a hypothesis that your anxiety is normal and look for evidence to reject (or confirm) the hypothesis. To make this a good experiment you need to ask or look for good evidence. eg asking someone if they get more cautious while driving in the rain at night is probably going to get an honest response. Asking about whether or not one is boring to talk to won't. One might need to look for yawning, time checking, double booking, not wanting to commit to a meeting time etc as potential evidence for one to be boring.

    For the second question, even if you experience more anxiety than hours needn't mean you require help. eg if you live in the inner city and you have a snake phobia, does it matter. If you are happy or content with your life  and it is just others nagging you to do something about it, then let it be. However, if you feel that there are opportunities missed, that you want a bit more from life then perhaps seeing someone would be helpful.

    I hope this adds a little for you

  • Ralph Graham


    Ralph Graham, Counsellor, Psychotherapist, helping those who are affected by:grief, loss, anxiety, phobias, panic attack.And those who have been traumatised by:crime, assault, sexual abuse and … View Profile

    You are certainly getting good advice above I feel.
    Some people may have a higher anxiety level than others and yet tolerate or deal with being anxious to some degree. Others may feel the slightest bit of anxiety means they are not doing well and, yes, get anxious about that. Rather than being concerned about what level of anxiety is “normal,” you might focus on improving the areas/situations in which you feel most anxious. If you find yourself focussing a lot of the time on how anxious you are, your level of happiness may not be high enough for you. If a person gets to a point where they seek medication to feel better or to feel what they consider to be normal, then that might be a good time to get some advice.

    Again, rather than think about what might be wrong or abnormal or not acceptable, if your daily focus is on just making things better and doing the things you find helps to do that, what is normal may become less of an issue.  
    Mindful meditation is a really good thing to investigate. The point here is that this alone can lower anxiety levels significantly and contribute to putting you in a place where anxiety issues can be more easily identified and addressed. Working with a therapist will then be much more productive I feel, if you have established a meditation habit.

     An approach I favour is to methodically investigate areas of my client’s life with the aim of zeroing in on experiences that have may have set anxiety in motion and dealing with these as we find them. I emphasise though that good therapy can be hard to accomplish if one’s “normal” state is an anxious one, hence the meditation.

    My very best wishes,
    Ralph Graham
    To send me a private message click Make an Enquiry

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