What is anxiety?
Everyone will experience anxiety in their life. Anxiety is a normal human feeling of unease or fear that is experienced when we are in a situation that we perceive as frightening or threatening. Although anxiety might feel unpleasant, its function is to keep us alert and help prepare our body for ‘fight or flight’ – to fight the fearful object or situation, or to run away from it. Usually, when we leave the situation or get used to it, the anxiety decreases. However, if the anxiety persists, is ongoing and/or is severe in nature, it can become problematic and can get in the way of life.
How do I know if I have an anxiety problem?
Anxiety is a state characterised by fear and concern and can create feelings of uneasiness, dread and worry. Normally, anxiety is a healthy reaction to something stressful, and can be helpful by allowing you to deal with a difficult situation. However, sometimes it can become excessive and it may begin to interfere with your day-to-day life. There are various anxiety disorders which you may be able to identify with, such as phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety, generalised anxiety, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
When you feel particularly or noticeably anxious, you may feel some or all of these physical effects: sweating, shaking or trembling, chest pain, stomach pain, irritability, agitation, nausea or vomiting, headaches, heart palpitations (you are very aware of your heart beat) or tachycardia (racing heart) and feeling faint.
These symptoms are consistent with most anxiety disorders however some disorders may have their own specific symptoms, such as repeatedly washing your hands in obsessive-compulsive disorder.
If you suffer from anxiety, you may also experience panic attacks in addition to the symptoms listed above. They may occur suddenly or while you’re out shopping. Sufferers of panic attacks often feel like they’re going to die, they’re going insane or they’re having a nervous break down and may even call for emergency services. Hyperventilating, nausea and feeling faint are common symptoms of a panic attack and you might feel anxious for hours or even days afterwards.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder means you may feel worried or distressed about day-to-day, routine and trivial matters. For example, it may be something as small as not having the exact money when you get on a bus, right up to worrying that a common cold may seriously harm someone in your family. You may feel scared and uneasy on a constant basis and worry excessively all day.
If you, or someone you’re close to is suffering with this specific anxiety disorder then please visit our generalised anxiety disorder forum for some mutual support or if you have any questions.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is characterised by the need to carry out repetitive and obsessive rituals such as hand washing or flicking the light switch a certain number of times. Sufferers may have intrusive thoughts and fears that they cannot ignore and you may believe something bad will happen if an obsessive task is not completed, so you may carry out these behaviours with the aim of reducing the associated anxiety. However this can sometimes have an adverse effect and you may feel more anxious and stressed if you are unable to carry out certain rituals. You can visit our Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Forum if you would like to talk to our members about this anxiety disorder.
If you suffer from recurring and severe panic attacks, you may suffer from panic disorder. In addition to the panic attacks, you may be anxious or scared that you will have another attack and that you will not be able to escape, for example when travelling on a bus. As a result, you may feel scared to leave the house for fear of experiencing an attack. You can visit our Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia Forum if you need some mutual support from other sufferers or you’d like to share your experiences with panic disorder and agoraphobia.
Sufferers from social anxiety may only feel their anxiety symptoms when faced with social situations. If you suffer from this disorder, you may be extremely self-conscious about how you present yourself to strangers or work colleagues. You may find it difficult to make eye contact with others or you may feel afraid that any comment you make will portray you as a bad person. To avoid such negative feelings, you might make excuses not to take part in social gatherings where there could be people you are unfamiliar with. This could have an impact on your overall mental well-being and you could be feeling utterly alone and isolated. You can visit our Social Anxiety Forum where you can talk to others who suffer from social anxiety and get some friendly support.
Many of our members have mild, moderate or even severe phobias about specific things that the majority of people have no problems with when they come across them in their day to day life. If you have a phobia about a certain thing, you may feel very afraid and anxious or even embarrassed if you encounter it and you might also suffer from panic attacks if the phobia is particularly overwhelming. You can visit our Specific Phobias Forum if you would like to talk to fellow sufferers; you might encounter someone with the same or similar phobia as you.
Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, may occur if you have witnessed or been part of a particularly traumatic and painful experience. Events such as abuse, assault, war or disaster may leave a lasting effect on you and you may be experiencing flashbacks and nightmares. As a result, these can trigger panic attacks and you may avoid any activities you feel is associated with the trauma. If you need to talk to someone about PTSD and how it affects you or someone you know, please visit our PTSD forum.
What should I do if I think I have an anxiety problem?
It is important to remember that anxiety problems are very common. Everybody experiences anxiety and a certain degree of anxiety is even good for us. However, if your feelings do not go away you should seek more help. Your GP is likely to be the first person you will see about your anxiety. Your GP might then recommend further treatment.
What can I do to help myself?
There are a number of things you can try:
- Learn relaxation skills – relaxation is a good way of calming the mind and body. If you would like to learn more about relaxation techniques there are books, cds and dvds available to help you learn.
- Talk to someone – talking about problems can help us feel better. Try talking to friends or relatives that you are close to.
- Self-help books and websites – there are a number of self-help books and websites that are available to support people with anxiety difficulties. There are self-help computer packages available too, which can be accessed through your GP.
- Self-help groups – a good way of getting in touch with people who are going through similar experiences. You can look for these on the internet.
What professional help could I get?
You can talk to your GP about how you are feeling. They may recommend:
- Talking therapy
There are different types of talking therapy.
The most common is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which encourages you to examine how your thoughts, feelings and behaviour interact and how they might contribute to your experience of anxiety. The therapy also encourages you to develop more helpful ways of thinking and behaving.
Where can I find out more?
National Health Service website: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/anxiety/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Royal College of Psychiatrists website:
Anxiety Coach Website:
Discuss your anxiety issues on the Mental Health Forum
Visit the Anxiety Forum
The Mental Health Forum thanks the anonymous author for writing this article. It has been written especially for the Mental Health Forum.