Anxiety: An Overview
Anxiety is something everyone experiences at times and feeling anxious is a perfectly natural reaction to some situations. This article will outline what anxiety is, signs of anxiety and tips for helping cope with anxiety.
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 our heart race, we might feel sweaty, shaky or short of breath. Anxiety can also cause changes in our behaviour, such as becoming overly careful or avoiding things that trigger anxiety.
When anxiety becomes a problem, our worries can be out of proportion with relatively harmless situations. It can feel more intense or overwhelming, and interfere with our everyday lives and relationships.
The tips on this page, when practised regularly as part of your routine, should help you manage feelings of anxiety. But if your anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you could consider seeking further support.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety affects everyone differently and can be brought on by different situations or experiences. It is our body's natural reaction to perceived danger, focusing our attention and giving us a rush of adrenaline to react, sometimes 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. That's why learning to recognise what is making you anxious can help so you can deal with the uncertainty better.
Some people naturally react more than others, and there are times when everyone may go through stressful situations and feel anxious because of uncertainty or perceived threat.
There are lots of things that can influence our mental health, such as our upbringing, childhood environment, things that happen to us and even our temperament. Learn more about what affects our mental health and what support is available for life's challenges.
Signs of anxiety
Anxiety can show in a variety of ways. This can be as changes in your body, in being constantly worried or changes in your behaviour, such as 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 or make decisions
- have trouble sleeping
- feel sick, dizzy, sweaty or short of breath
- be shaky or trembly
- get headaches or tummy aches
- avoid situations or put off doing things you are worried about
- have difficulty falling or staying asleep
- 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
Top tips to cope with anxiety
Shift your focus
Some people find relaxation, mindfulness or breathing exercises helpful. They reduce tension and focus our awareness on the present moment. Give it a go, and try to make it a regular thing if you find them helpful.
Try self-help CBT techniques
Understand your anxiety
Try keeping a diary of what you are doing and how you feel at different times to help identify what's affecting you and what you need to take action on.
Make time for worries
If your worry feels overwhelming and takes over your day, setting specific "worry time" to go through your concerns each day can help you to focus on other things. Watch the video for more advice.
Face the things you want to avoid
It's easy to avoid situations, or rely on habits that make us feel safer, but these can keep anxiety going. By slowly building up time in worrying situations, anxious feelings will gradually reduce and you will see these situations are OK.
Look at the bigger picture
If we feel anxious about a situation, we might get stuck on the details and stop seeing things rationally. Thinking about your problem or situation from someone else's view can make it easier to come up with a plan. What advice would you give to a friend or family member?
When we feel stressed or anxious, our body's threat system can feel like it is taking over. Breathing exercises can help us calm down our threat system, and activate our more soothing system, which in turn helps us to calm down, think rationally, and feel better.
Download the below simple breathing exercises to help manage the symptoms of anxiety.
The STOPP technique allows us to gain some distance between distressing thoughts and feelings, reduce the physical reaction of emotion/adrenaline at times of high stress, and helps us to find some calm to help us think more logically and rationally