What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal human emotion characterised by feelings of worry, fear, or unease. It’s a natural response to stress and can be helpful in certain situations, as it prepares the body to respond to a perceived threat. You might find that you get a bit anxious before an exam, a first date, or a job interview for example, and that’s perfectly normal.


When does Anxiety become harmful?

When anxiety becomes excessive, prolonged, or disproportionate to the situation, it can be considered a mental health disorder. Anxiety becomes harmful when it interferes significantly with a person’s daily life, relationships, and overall well-being.


Types of Anxiety

Anxiety can present in many different forms and is often the main symptom in things like:

  • Phobias
  • Panic Disorders
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

This section covers GAD – or Generalised Anxiety Disorder. People who experience GAD usually feel anxious most of the time. 


Symptoms of Anxiety

As with most mental health issues, anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person. Some might include:

Physical Symptoms:

  • Rapid Heartbeat: Increased heart rate or palpitations.
  • Muscle Tension: Tightness or tension in muscles, often in the neck, shoulders, or jaw.
  • Sweating: Excessive sweating, especially in the palms or underarms.
  • Trembling or Shaking: Involuntary movements due to heightened nervousness.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing or feeling as though you can’t catch your breath.
  • Dizziness or Lightheadedness: Feeling faint or dizzy, sometimes accompanied by a sensation of unsteadiness.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Nausea, stomach discomfort, or other digestive issues.
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or exhausted even with minimal physical exertion.


Mental and Emotional Symptoms:

  • Excessive Worry: Persistent and intrusive thoughts about potential future events or outcomes.
  • Restlessness: Feeling on edge or being unable to relax.
  • Irritability: Easily becoming annoyed or agitated.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Finding it challenging to focus on tasks or make decisions.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep.
  • Mind Blankness: Periods where the mind feels blank or foggy.
  • Heightened Sensitivity: Being overly alert or sensitive to stimuli, such as noises or lights.
  • Panic Attacks: Sudden and intense periods of fear or discomfort, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, sweating, and trembling.


Coping with Anxiety

Seek professional help: A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can provide guidance and support. They may use therapeutic techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help manage anxiety.

Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. This is typically done under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

Lifestyle changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle can have a positive impact on anxiety. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, sufficient sleep, and stress management techniques can contribute to overall well-being.

Mindfulness and relaxation techniques: Practices such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and reduce anxiety.

Build a support system: Talk to friends, family, or support groups about your feelings. Sharing your experiences can provide emotional support and reduce feelings of isolation.

Set realistic goals: Break tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Setting realistic goals and acknowledging achievements can boost confidence and reduce anxiety.

Where can I get help?

General Practitioner (GP):

    • Start by visiting your GP. They can assess your symptoms, provide a diagnosis, and discuss treatment options. They may refer you to mental health services or prescribe medications if necessary.


Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT):

    • IAPT services offer talking therapies for common mental health problems, including anxiety. You can refer yourself to these services without a GP referral. Therapies offered may include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and counselling.

Charities and Support Organizations:

    • Charities such as Anxiety UK offer information, resources, and support services for individuals dealing with anxiety.

Private Counselling or Psychotherapy:

    • You can choose to see a private therapist or counsellor for one-on-one sessions. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a directory of registered therapists.

NHS Crisis and Helplines:

    • If you are in crisis, the NHS 111 service can provide urgent help. Additionally, Tough Enough To Care offers a free and confidential text service 24/7.

Simply text TOUGH to 85258

Mindfulness and Self-Help Resources:

    • Mindfulness-based approaches and self-help resources can be beneficial for managing anxiety. Apps like Headspace and Calm offer guided meditation and relaxation exercises.