Read on for information about what anxiety is, tips and advice for how to manage it, and where to find professional support.
Anxiety is a helpful emotion because it alerts us to potential threats and dangers. However, sometimes we can feel extremely anxious most of the time, even when there are no obvious threats or dangers.
Anxiety involves a feeling of unease that can make us hyperalert to what is happening around us as we look out for things that could be dangerous or threatening. It also involves strong and unpleasant physical sensations such as our heart racing, sweating or a knot in our stomach. It can vary in strength, from being quite small and subtle to being so intense that we find it hard to focus on anything else, and we might find it hard to eat and sleep.
We may or may not know what is causing us to feel this way. Anxiety can affect people in different ways, in terms of feelings, thoughts and what is happening in our bodies.
Anxiety is how we have evolved to deal with situations that we think are dangerous, and helps us to respond to threatening situations in a helpful way.
In a situation where you think you are under threat, hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released to help you deal with the danger (‘fight’, ‘flight’ or ‘freeze’). They bring about changes in your body that help you respond quicker, like raising you heart rate which means that you can run more quickly to escape the danger.
Even if you’re not faced with a situation that seems physically dangerous (e.g. a car crash or being startled by something jumping out at you), anxiety is the body’s way of dealing with situations that we feel scared or nervous about, which can lead to our bodies believing we are in danger. This can lead to daily activities, such as travelling to work or meeting others in public, triggering the release of these stress hormones.
Take a look at the image below to see how anxiety can feel:
Consider the list opposite and tick any that make you feel anxious.
Anxiety can also be linked with feeling stressed, and these can both have an impact on your day-to-day life. For more about managing stress, click here.
Find out more about why you might be experiencing anxiety and hear from other people about how to cope with it.
Anxiety is a healthy and natural response to situations where we think there is a threat or a danger. If anxiety starts to get in the way of leading the life we want to lead, then it can become a problem. When it gets out of hand, we might be experiencing an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are extremely common, and the good news is that there are lots of things that help.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to mental health, and there are several different types of anxiety that can be experienced. Some examples are described below:
For more information and support about mental health conditions related to anxiety, click here.
Many people experience anxiety and it’s OK to struggle with these feelings. Watch this video to hear more about how we can experience anxiety, how it can impact our day-to-day lives, and what can help us overcome it.
If you are struggling with anxiety, there are lots of different options to help with this. In the next section, we will show you a variety of things you can try to help you feel less worried or anxious and get you back to your normal, happy life. If these don’t seem to be helpful for you, it’s always good to seek further advice from your GP.
Asking for help can feel overwhelming and you may feel unsure about speaking to a doctor. If you are worried about this, click here for tips and advice for how to prepare for your appointment.
If anxiety is having a significant impact on your life, you may be offered treatment to help with this. The most common treatment for anxiety is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and this involves meeting with a therapist to explore how your thoughts, feelings and behaviours are affecting you. For more information about CBT, click here.
If you live in England, you can refer yourself to an NHS talking therapies service for free where you can access advice and support for anxiety problems. You can also find a range of NHS-recommended self-help books to help with a wide range of difficulties on the Reading Well website.
If seeking treatment doesn’t feel right for you at this time, you can try our ‘self-prescription’ below. This includes several ways to help reduce your anxiety that can be practised during your day-to-day life.
Scroll down for some tips and resources that can help to manage anxiety.
Fixating on negative thoughts about yourself can quickly become overwhelming. Asking yourself some of the questions below can help you evaluate your thoughts and help to manage your anxiety:
When we evaluate our thoughts, it’s common for the same thoughts to keep coming back. This is quite normal and nothing to worry about; the purpose of evaluating our thoughts is to acknowledge that they are not always accurate. Although the thoughts might not go away immediately, this process can help us learn not to ‘listen’ to the thoughts as much.
A diary can help you to understand what the triggers for your anxiety are and why. Recording levels of anxiety each day, along with what has happened that day, may help you notice patterns and this can help you feel more prepared to manage your anxiety or seek further support.
If you're not sure how to start, you could try using this template.
Anxiety can make you feel like you’re on high alert at all times, so it’s important to find space to breathe and calm your bodily responses.
When you start feeling panicky, try to take a break from what you are doing and get some fresh air. If you’re not able to do this, try to focus on your breathing – take several deep breaths in through your nose, then out again through your mouth, and repeat until you start feeling calmer.
If you are able to take a break you could speak to someone you trust, or try listening to some music or a podcast to give yourself some distance from the situation.
When we are experiencing anxiety, talking to someone we trust can often make a big difference. It may feel difficult to start the conversation, but there are several ways that you could reach out.
If you struggle with sharing your feelings face-to-face, you could try speaking through text or over the phone. If you’re not sure who to talk to, Anxiety UK is a charity that offers lots of helpful advice for people struggling with anxiety. You can access support via phone, text, email, or live chat – find more information about this here.
Alternatively, you can talk to your GP or self-refer to the NHS talking therapies service if you live in England.
When you choose to reach out, it’s important that you feel comfortable with what you are sharing. Focus on what feels right for you, and this will help you get the support you need.