Support, guidance & advice for todays primary carers
Feelings of anxiety can be normal and healthy, or they can indicate an anxiety problem. It’s normal, for example, to feel afraid when a large dog snaps at you or to worry when a family member is several hours late and has not called. These feelings can help you to protect yourself and others you care about. Once the situation is resolved or changes, the fear or worry should go away. However, you may have an anxiety problem if your feelings of worry or fear occur most of the time, keep you awake at night or prevent you from doing things in the day. This may be caused by stressful or traumatic events; alcohol, medications or caffeine; a family history of anxiety disorders; or other medical and/or psychiatric problems. Anxiety in older adults is common—it often goes unrecognised and can take different forms. The following are some of the more common forms, listed in order of how often they are seen in older people.
Types of Anxieties
Generalised anxiety disorder
Where people worry often over a long period of time.
Where people fear a specific thing, such as going outside, heights or spiders.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Where intrusive memories, dreams or flashbacks cause people to relive the intense fear experienced during a traumatic experience, such as a war, violent assault, or accident.
Where people have episodes of extreme fear, often with physical symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pains.
Where troubling uninvited thoughts, urges and images surface in the mind repeatedly and lead people to perform time-consuming rituals aimed at calming their distress.
What are the signs?
The worry and fear that come with anxiety can cause people to avoid situations, things or people, even when they know that what they are feeling doesn’t make sense. It can also cause them to feel physically ill.
Common early symptoms include:
- irrational and excessive worry or fear
- checking and rechecking for safety
- avoiding routine activities
- avoiding social situations
- racing heart
- shallow breathing, trembling, nausea and sweating
What can a person do?
People with anxiety are often aware that their fear is excessive but are unable to control it. It can make it hard, if not impossible, to enjoy life. The first step is to rule out a physical problem by visiting a family doctor. If anxiety is diagnosed, then it can often be managed with a combination of counselling, medication and relaxation techniques.
Carer’s Worry (- less) Guide
- Become an expert on the condition.
Learn about the condition that you or your loved one has, its symptoms and how to recognise when symptoms begin.
- Develop and stick to a plan for managing symptoms of anxiety
Use skills learned in therapy to manage symptoms and take medications as prescribed.
- Develop a social support network
Family, friends and a support group can help you to recognise when stressful situations are triggering anxiety symptoms, and can boost you (and them) when feelings of discouragement set in.
- Learn to cope with stress
Stress, fatigue and feeling out of control can trigger symptoms. One way of managing stress is to do things that are relaxing, pleasurable, or interesting to you. This can help to take your mind off the things that are causing stress and make them seem less important. Other ways to manage stress includes breathing techniques, meditation and exercise.
- Live a healthy, well-balanced life
Eating well, getting enough sleep and keeping active can all help you to manage stress and feel well. Focus on developing a work-life balance with time for family, friends, work or volunteering and leisure activities.
This too shall pass
Anxiety or panic attacks don’t last forever. When those unpleasant feeling come, try not to run or let your mind race off into catastrophic thinking. Instead with the feeling knowing that just like a wave, it will come, and it will go. The adrenaline surge released in a panic attack doesn’t keep increasing arbitrarily. Once our bodies realise there is no “real threat” the cortisol starts to reduce and a sense of calmness returns…Always remember, ‘This too shall pass.
Adapted from “Improving our response to older adults with substance use, mental health and gambling problems” by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Summer 2023 Out Now
Care & Ageing Well Expo Melb 2024
Carer Gateway is an Australian Government program providing free services and support for carers. Call Carer Gateway for support and access to services, Monday to Friday, 8am to 5pm local time.
Assistance with accessing emergency respite is available any time, 24/7.