Understanding AnxietyPsychologist consulting therapy, mental problems concept. Young man talking about his problems and depression to psychiatrist for psychological support

What is it?

Anxiety is a normal human reaction in times of danger and stress. It affects all of us at different times and in different ways. It can be felt through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations in the body.
Our minds and bodies still work in the same way as our ancestors and anxiety evolved to protect ourselves from danger. Anxiety is a feeling to describe a type of fear or a sense of being under threat. The difference between anxiety and fear is that fear is normally based on a specific set of circumstances, and anxiety is more in line with a vague set of concerns that may develop in the future.

What causes anxiety?

Anxiety is not caused by single factor but a combination of things

  • You may have a genetic predisposition. However, having an anxious parent or family member does not automatically mean you will develop anxiety.
  • Some research suggests that people with certain personality traits such as perfectionism or low self- esteem are more likely to develop anxiety.
  • It may develop because of a life changing event, such as the death of a family member, starting a new job, getting married, becoming a parent or the ending of a relationship.
  • Physical illness and conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes can be impacted by anxiety. It may be helpful to visit your G.P. to determine whether a medical condition may be contributing to your anxious feelings.

When you feel anxious or frightened your body and mind reacts very quickly.

Effects of anxiety on the body

The physical changes to the body when you become anxious are caused by the release of the hormone, adrenaline which historically helped us to be able to take ‘’fight or flight’ when feeling under threat.

You may notice other effects such as:

  • A racing heartbeat
  • Backache, muscle tension
  • Dizziness
  • Fast breathing
  • Sweating
  • Nausea/diarrhoea
  • Changes in libido
  • Dry mouth/trouble swallowing
  • Sleeplessness/being tired

Anxiety can also affect how you think and feel.

Effects of anxiety on thoughts and mood

  • Feeling nervous
  • Fearing the worst/having a sense of dread
  • Excessive worrying about the past and the future
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Seeing yourself as unable to cope or losing control

How to manage anxiety?

The most common behaviour to manage anxiety is avoidance. This may seem helpful in the short term by offering immediate relief but the difficulty with constantly avoiding the fearful situation is that you never actually get to test whether your anxious feelings about the situation, are justified. By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotion reaction, you can start to accept it. Anxiety is not ideal but it does not need to be intolerable.

Talk to friends and family

Talking to someone you trust about your anxious feelings could be a relief. It may be that talking to someone close can help you to feel understood and cared for.
You might wish to talk to a trained counsellor or seek a course of Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) which can help by exploring how to change unhelpful thoughts.

Look after your physical health

Take daily exercise, this releases serotonin and other feel good hormones which can have a positive impact on your mood.
Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake and eat a well-balanced diet.

Adopt Relaxation Techniques

Take regular breaks during the day, practice mindfulness meditation.
Find time to enjoy pastimes and hobbies.
Take slow, regular breaths until you feel calm. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4 and slowly exhale to a count of 4 and repeat.
Practice muscle relaxation exercises to relieve tension in any part of the body by tensing and relaxing each muscle in turn.

Seek help from your GP and other support organisations

The above measures may help, but if anxious feelings persist, visit your G.P. who may recommend a talking therapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or possibly a short course of medication.
You can also contact a recognised organisation for help and advice.

Anxiety Care UK
Helps people to recover from anxiety disorders.

Anxiety UK
03444 775 775 (Monday–Friday 9.30am–5.30pm)
Advice and support for people living with anxiety.

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
01455 88 33 00
Provides information about counselling and therapy. See the BACP’s sister website, itsgoodtotalk.org.uk, to find a therapist near you.

Use the NHS service search to find psychological therapies services near you.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)

Information and clinical guidelines on recommended treatments for different conditions, including anxiety disorders.

No More Panic
Provides information, support and advice for those with panic disorder, anxiety, phobias and OCD, including a forum and chat room.

No Panic
helpline: 08449 67 48 48 (10am–10pm)
Provides a helpline, step-by-step programmes, and support for those with anxiety disorders.


116 123 (24 hours a day)
Chris PO Box 90 90
Stirling FK8 2SA
24-hour emotional support for anyone who needs to talk. Calls are free from all providers and do not appear on bills.


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