Anxiety is something everyone experiences at times. Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to some situations. But sometimes feelings of anxiety can be constant and overwhelming. If your feelings of anxiety seem out of proportion to the situation this can affect your daily life.
The good news is there are plenty of things you can try to help cope with anxiety. Read on to find out what anxiety is, what causes it, symptoms and ways you can help yourself.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, like a worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious from time to time and it usually passes once the situation is over.
It can make your heart race, you might feel sweaty, shaky or out of breath. Anxiety can also change your behaviour, like being overly careful or avoiding the things that trigger the anxiety.
When anxiety becomes a problem, your worries can be out of proportion with situations. It can feel more intense or overwhelming which can affect your life negatively.
If your anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you should seek support.
What causes anxiety?
Everyone gets stressed and anxiety can affect everyone differently. It can be brought on by different situations or experiences and is your body's natural reaction to something you see as dangerous. It focuses your attention and gives a rush of adrenaline to react - you might have heard this being called the "fight or flight" response.
Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is making you anxious. Which can be upsetting or stressful in itself, so it's important to learn what is making you anxious. This way you can help yourself deal with these feelings better.
Signs you may be suffering from anxiety
Anxiety can show in a variety of ways. This can be things like changes in your body or being constantly worried. It could also be changes in your behaviour, like becoming overly careful or avoiding things that trigger anxiety.
- feel tired, on edge, restless or irritable
- feel a sense of dread
- be unable to concentrate
- have trouble sleeping
- feel sick, dizzy, sweaty or short of breath
- feel shaky
- get headaches or tummy aches
- avoid situations or put off doing things you are worried about
- experience a noticeably strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
- have pins and needles
- have a dry mouth
- sweat excessively
- repeatedly check things or seek assurance from others
When is anxiety a mental health problem?
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem if:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.
If your symptoms fit the medical criteria then you might be diagnosed with a particular anxiety disorder. But it's also possible to experience problems with anxiety without having a specific diagnosis.
The differences between general anxiety, Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder
Anxieties can be grouped on what the fear or the worry is about. These groups are helpful in understanding what your difficulties are and treating them.
Fears and phobias
You might remember being scared of the dark or insects when you were younger. As you get older, you usually grow out of these fears or are able to manage them without worrying too much about it.
Sometimes fears about particular things (like needles or heights) can be strong and don’t go away.
They stop you from doing normal things and disrupt or take over your life. These fears are called phobias and you may need extra help to cope with them.
Some people feel anxious most of the time for no clear reason. When it is really bad, it can stop you from concentrating at school or having fun with friends and family.
Sometimes feeling anxious and sad can go together. If you're experiencing feelings of depression it's important to reach out for help. You could speak to a trusted friend or family member, or speak to your GP. There are also organisations that offer support for mental health and wellbeing, you can see our list here.
Separation anxiety is feeling worried or anxious when you are away from someone.
It is normal for young children to feel scared and worried when they are not with the people who normally look after them.
If it is still a problem when you are older, this can make it difficult to go to school or go out with friends. If this happens it is best to get help.
Social anxiety is an overwhelming fear of social situations. You may be comfortable with people you know well, but find it very worrying to be with new people, places or social occasions.
Speaking in front of people might be really difficult for you. You might be worried about making mistakes or what others think of you.
This might mean you try to avoid situations that involve other people. When this happens, it is important to seek help.
A panic attack is an extreme episode of anxiety that seems to occur for no reason. Panic attacks have a start and a finish; they are not continuous. But you might worry about when the next one will happen.
During an attack, you can have physical feelings of anxiety along with scary thoughts. It might be things like thinking you are going to die, or feeling out of control.
In teenagers, it can be common that the fear of having one or frequent attacks stop you from doing your daily routine or enjoying life. This is called panic disorder.
Some young people may have other types of anxiety. This could include post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Ways to help
Some people may grow out of anxiety, but a few may still experience anxiety when they grow up. The good news is that it is treatable - this means that there are things that can be done to reduce feelings of anxiety.
Ask for help
Speak to a trusted friend or family member if you feel like you’re overly anxious.
Sometimes talking things over can help give you some perspective and clear your mind.
If anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, call NHS 111 or talk to your GP.
There are a number of organisations who offer support for young people who struggle with their mental health.
Anxiety UK offers support and information on a range of anxiety, stress and anxiety-based conditions.
Helplines are open 9.30AM – 5.30PM, Monday – Friday (except bank holidays).
Visit their website to use Anxia - a chatbot that can help provide support.
Breathing Space offer a phone service for anyone over the age of 16 experiencing anxiety.
Open Monday – Thursday 6pm – 2am and from 6pm on Friday to 6am on Monday.
Childline give support for anyone under 19 years old. They have webchat available on their website.
Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
NSPCC offer child mental health support.
Open Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends.
SAMH offer their services to anyone seeking Support, information or for a chat about mental health.
Open 9am - 6pm, Monday – Friday (closed Bank Holidays).
How is anxiety treated?
The type of specialist help offered will depend on what is causing your anxiety. Usually it will be a form of talking therapy, like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT can help you understand and deal with the causes of your anxiety and to find ways of coping. You may be seen on your own or with your family.
If you’ve tried a talking therapy and your anxiety has not improved, you might also be given a medicine to help. A type of antidepressant, called an SSRI, is usually used.
Living with anxiety problems is difficult, but it is treatable. With the right help anxiety doesn’t have to keep making you feel unhappy.
Find out more
Visit our #AyeFeel page for loads of information and support for mental health and wellbeing.