What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural reaction to feeling afraid or under threat, but sometimes can appear seemingly out of nowhere. If we begin worrying and feeling anxious about lots of things all the time, it may be hard to manage.

Causes of anxiety

Anxiety can be caused by different things for different people. You may feel anxious about starting a new job, ending a relationship or having a baby. Big life events and every day occurrences can equally be a source of anxiety, depending on how it affects you. There may not be an obvious cause for your anxiety, which can be upsetting in itself.

blonde girl looking anxious
blonde girl looking anxious

Symptoms of anxiety

Feeling a sense of dread
Worrying about what is going to happen, or what has happened already
Feeling tired and irritable
Not being able to concentrate
Difficulty sleeping
Dry mouth
Feeling shaky or trembling

You may feel many of these symptoms or just one or two. You may be worrying about lots of things all at once and this may be making you feel upset. Anxiety is very normal and it can be managed, and you can feel like yourself again.

As well as the general anxiety symptoms above, there are other specific types of anxiety.

Types of anxiety

While most of us may feel shy or anxious in some social situations at some point in our lives, it can be a bigger issue for some people. Social anxiety may be making your life very difficult because you worry that others think badly of you, or you fear that you’ll say or do something embarrassing. You may experience symptoms of anxiety, such as sweating, blushing or your heart racing. This may be made worse if you think these symptoms will be noticed by others.

People with health anxiety worry that physical symptoms of illness are indicators of serious disease or severe medical conditions. For example, if a person experiencing health anxiety feels that their chest is getting tight, they may believe that they are having a heart attack. Those with health anxiety frequently misinterpret physical symptoms of anxiety as a sign of an impending physical health problem.

When we get very anxious our body goes into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This can cause us to feel symptoms such as racing heartbeat, sweating, shaking and dizziness, which can be described as a panic attack.

These symptoms can feel scary, and can make you feel as though you are physically ill. Unfortunately, the more we expect to feel these symptoms, the more our own fear can then trigger them.

If you have these symptoms, you may begin to avoid places and activities in case you have a panic attack.

If you avoid going to public places, such as shops, public transport because you are worried about panic attacks, this is described as agoraphobia.

For some people, particular objects or situations can trigger anxiety. This is called a phobia. This could be anything from a fear of heights, animals or flying, to a fear of seeing blood. This intense fear may lead you to avoid certain situations, and this may be causing difficulties in your day-to-day life.

Some people mistakenly think obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is just habits you may have, such as folding our clothes in a certain way. However, symptoms of OCD are much more serious than habits. It includes having negative, repetitive and intrusive thoughts which are obsessive. It also involves repeating actions to try and get rid of these thoughts, which are described as compulsions.  

If you have OCD, you might be aware that your thoughts and compulsions are extreme, but you might find them very hard to resist or stop.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition which can develop after experiencing a traumatic event(s), which is very stressful, frightening or distressing.

Symptoms include reliving the experience, flashbacks and nightmares. You may also have problems sleeping, such as insomnia, and finding it difficult to concentrate.

These symptoms may have a significant impact on your day-to-day life, and therapy can help you to manage these symptoms.

How can Talking Therapies help with anxiety?

There are ways to manage your anxiety that can make a huge difference, and talking therapies can help. Cognitive behavioural therapy or guided self-help may be able to help you make sense of your anxiety and feel better.

young man using mobile phone and drinking hot drink

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Find out more

View All
Anxiety on the Every Mind Matters website
Find out more about the causes of anxiety, with self-help tips.
Anxiety UK
Online information and resources from the UK based organisation.
NHS self-help guide on anxiety
This self-help guide on anxiety is produced by Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS.

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