Around one in four New Zealanders will experience anxiety disorder in their lifetimes – making it one of the most common experiences that isn’t talked about.
The new ten-part web series Unravelling Anxiety, the second in Digital Alchemist’s ‘Misconceptions’ series made with the support of NZ On Air, aims to bust myths, confront taboos, and let people who live with anxiety know that they are not alone.
The episodes feature interviews with healthcare professionals, everyday people who live with anxiety, and well-known New Zealanders such as Split Enz bass player Mike Chunn, TikTok star Leighton Clarke (AKA Uncle Tics), and social media personality Krystine Nation.
Producer Charlotte Wanhill says she made the series because she has friends and whānau who have anxiety disorders, and she has seen first-hand how debilitating and misunderstood anxiety can be.
“With this series I want to create an understanding of anxiety disorders so people can better support their friends and loved ones,” Wanhill says.
But what is anxiety? Is it feeling nervous and stressed, or is there more to it than that?
“Anxiety is part of the common human experience,” says Clinical Psychologist Dr Eve Hermansson-Webb. “We’re all going to experience anxiety in our lifetime to some extent or another. But the problem arises when we start to experience threat where it’s unjustified.”
Counsellor Shirleen Prasad says anxiety is like an alarm system in the body. While we all feel the alarm at times of stress and uncertainty, someone with an anxiety disorder has their alarm going off all the time.
“When the alarm system in our body becomes over reactive, we start to feel anxious in non-threatening situations,” she says.
Four criteria are used to help determine whether someone might have an anxiety disorder. They are: disproportionate, distressing, disruptive and duration.
“The first thing is whether or not the stress response is disproportionate,” says Goldie Hamilton, Anxiety New Zealand Trust’s National Manager. “What that means is whether the stress response the person’s having is something that we’d expect for someone of that age in that particular situation.
“Another criteria is whether or not it’s distressing. The third criteria is whether it’s disruptive – is it getting in the way of that person living the life they want to live? The last is duration – is it lasting a long time when they have that stress response?”
People with anxiety describe it as feeling like a ball in their chest, having a weight on top of them, being a washing machine that’s in a spinning cycle, or having part of their brain constantly telling them the worst case scenario.
“I like to think of it as I’m drowning in a sea of ridiculous thoughts and outrageous scenarios,” says Isoa Kavakimotu.
“I’m trying my best to put on my life jacket and float but I’m just drowning.’
Mike Chunn describes it as “a living hell”.
“You are extremely anxious to the state of physical insanity – vomiting, and diarrhoea, and shaking, and all of that, and a terror in the head – for no reason,” he says.
But support is available – and there is hope. The ten Unravelling Anxiety episodes cover how anxiety develops and manifests, how to manage anxiety in the workplace, co-occurring conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and eating disorders, how to support someone with anxiety, and how to get help.
Misconceptions: Unravelling Anxiety was made with the support of NZ On Air.
Misconceptions: Unravelling Anxiety follows the first Misconceptions series by Digital Alchemist, The Truth About Miscarriage.
Where to get help
If you think you may be experiencing anxiety, you can ask your GP or a counsellor for advice. You can also reach out to the following organisations:
- National Anxiety 24-hour Helpline 0800 269 4389 0800 ANXIETY Helpline | Anxiety NZ
- Lifeline Aotearoa www.lifeline.org.nz/services/lifeline-helpline 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
- Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
- Youthline www.youthline.co.nz 0800 376 633
- Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
- Kidsline www.kidsline.org.nz 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
- Whatsup www.whatsup.co.nz 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
- Depression Helpline 0800 111 757 or text 4202
- Eating Disorders Carer Support NZ EDCS Eating Disorders Carer Support NZ | Facebook