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Mental Health Spotlight

Unpacking Anxiety

Ever watched someone that just can’t be bothered? You might even find yourself cursing them for procrastinating. But is that really what’s going on? It may be that they are actually experiencing anxiety.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life, whether it’s a job interview, meeting a partner’s whānau for the first time, or a major life change.

It is your body’s natural response to distressing or threatening situations. 

It shows up in different ways, at different times and everyone is different. 

When you’re in this type of situation, your body activates its fight-or-flight response to keep you alert, sharpen your reflexes, and prepare your body to either engage (fight) or escape (flight) the threat.

The flight-or-fight response can be triggered by real threats (e.g. money worries, changing jobs, chronic illness), perceived threats (e.g. I'm worried this person doesn't like me), or when a situation reminds you of difficult past experiences (e.g. I'm worried that it might happen again).

This response is completely natural. Some anxiety is helpful – and it usually settles once the stressful situation has passed. 

However, when those feelings don't go away, maybe they’re extreme for the situation, and you can’t seem to control them, that becomes anxiety.  

Think of an iceberg. People see what is happening on the surface – but they can’t see if there is turmoil underneath.

The feelings you may experience can:

  • Be quite intense
  • Last for weeks, months
  • Keep going up and down over many years
  • Negatively affect your thoughts, behaviour and general health
  • Leave you not enjoying life. 

There may be physical symptoms like isolated pain, a pounding heart or stomach cramps.

Anxiety can also affect other areas of your life – like your ability to cope, perform at work and can affect your relationships with friends and whānau.

If anxiety becomes overwhelming and affects your quality of life, I recommend you speak to a health professional.

Worrying and the symptoms of anxiety can creep up on you gradually. This can make it hard to know how much worrying is too much.

There are different kinds of anxiety disorders, but these are the most common:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is when people worry about a number of things, on most days for six or more months.
  • Phobias are extreme and irrational fears about a particular thing.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a reaction to a highly stressful event outside the range of everyday experience when a person feels very unsafe or threatened.
  • Panic Disorder is when a person has panic attacks.

It can impact on anyone, at any time, in any way. In most cases, it will pass quickly and no one will even know, but if symptoms persist or you are concerned about someone who may be suffering from anxiety, reach out.

Here are some great sites and apps to help with anxiety.

N.B. Farm Strong & Dr. Tom Mulholland created the T.W.I.G. Thought validation tool. You can see more of it at

If you or someone you know has lasting feelings of anxiety, please reach out. Consistently feeling anxious, over time, really plays havoc with our nervous system and overall health. There is help available so you can continue living with confidence. 


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