Mental Health Conditions

anxiety title

Anxiety is a feeling that is common to us all. It is characterised by feelings of unease or fear regarding certain situations. Anxiety is often associated with circumstances such as illness, unemployment, exams or job interviews.

This kind of anxiety is common. Most of us learn to manage it, and it tends to pass quickly. However, anxiety can become so severe that it can interfere with everyday life. Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with depression. This may mean it takes longer for your doctor to make a clear diagnosis and find an appropriate treatment.

As with any condition that affects individuals, anxiety may also be challenging for family, friends and colleagues. It can interfere with our ability to relate to others and to the world around us. It can be difficult for others to understand that reassurance, and logic may not be comforting, or appear realistic to those experiencing the condition.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Experiences of anxiety can vary between individuals. Some symptoms are psychological, others are physical. Anxiety can be self-perpetuating because the physical symptoms can be so distressing that they can make people even more anxious.

Psychological Symptoms

  • Feelings of fearful anticipation
  • Difficulty concentrating on things
  • Worrying a lot
  • Heightened alertness and a tendency to 'catastrophise', or focus on the worst in a situation
  • Disrupted sleep patterns

Physical Symptoms

  • Tightness or pain in the chest
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid shallow breathing
  • 'Butterfly' feelings in the stomach
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling faint
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Panic attacks

What causes anxiety?

There is no single cause of anxiety. It varies from person to person. It may begin after a long period of stress. You may feel you are not in control of certain aspects of your life. You may have experienced stressful events in the past and become anxious about encountering similar experiences in the future. Some people have a genetic predisposition towards anxiety. Research suggests there is an increased risk of developing anxiety problems if there is a family history of the condition.

There is evidence that anxiety can have biological causes, such as an over-active thyroid gland. It can also be a side-effect of certain medications, including some antidepressants. It is a common symptom of withdrawal from benzodiazepine drugs such as Valium. Recreational drug use can also trigger episodes of anxiety.

Some people experience many of the physical effects of anxiety because of involuntary rapid, shallow breathing, called hyperventilation or over-breathing. Hyperventilation can trigger panic attacks -sudden episodes of severe anxiety that can make people feel like they are having a heart attack or similar condition.

Treatments for anxiety

Talking treatments such as counselling and psychotherapy can help you identify unhelpful ways of thinking and behaving, and to explore coping strategies to deal with these.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you feel more in control of behaviour and thoughts. It can help you find constructive ways of dealing with difficult feelings and circumstances.

You can get a referral for NHS talking treatment through your GP. Many not-for-profit organisations provide free or low-cost counselling. You can find out about options in your area by contacting SANEline. You can also find out how to find a private practitioner from the list of organisations at the bottom of this page.

Medications, such as tranquillisers and sleeping pills, are usually used as a short-term treatment in cases of severe anxiety.

Which treatment may be right for me?

We all respond to different treatments in different ways. Your GP will help you weigh up the pros and cons of different treatments. It is helpful to be as open and honest as possible with your GP, so they can get an accurate picture of your condition. This will enable them to help you more effectively.

What can I do to help myself?

There are many ways you can try dealing with anxiety by yourself. It can be difficult as anxiety can interfere with your ability to think clearly and make decisions, so it can be helpful to talk to a friend or family member. Let them know you might need some support and encouragement with helping yourself.

Relaxation exercises 

Exercises such as deep breathing an yoga can reduce anxiety and clear your mind of worrying thoughts. Relaxation training is often provided in group sessions. After a few sessions, you ought to be able to relax more easily in times of stress. You might aldo get some advice on how to practice in your own time. Some GP practices offer relaxation training groups. If not, your GP may be able to refer you to a psychology department for treatment. Some not-for-profit organisations also offer relaxation training. You can find out about these different options by contacting SANEline.

Self-help groups 

This can be a great way to meet other people going through the same thing you are. You'll have the chance to share ideas for useful resources or coping techniques that other people have found helpful. Most importantly, it is a chance to help you realise you are not alone in how you are feeling. You can find out about self-help groups in your area by contacting SANEline.

Support forums

You might prefer to join an online support forum if there are no self-help groups in your area, or if you have mobility issues that make it difficult to get out. You'll be able to share your experiences with others in a similar situation to yourself, and benefit from mutual support. You may also have the option to remain anonymous if you prefer. You can register on our support forum here.

Dealing with negative thoughts

Anxiety can trap you in a cycle of negative thinking and it can be difficult to escape this. It is helpful to have a support network of friends or family with whom you can talk through any negative thoughts you are having. This may not relieve acute anxiety, but it can help to remind you that your fears are not necessarily rational, and that there is something to reach for and hope for when your feelings of anxiety subside.

Physical activity

Being active can be very therapeutic, and have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing. Anxiety may interfere with your ability to motivate yourself, so you might need some support and encouragement. Friends and family can help to motivate you, or offer encouragement by accompanying you in activities.

Caring for yourself

This may feel difficult, particularly if anxiety is linked to depression. However, some of the symptoms of anxiety such as sweating and perspiration may leave your clothes or bedclothes feeling stale and uncomfortable.

Having a shower, and arranging to have fresh clothes and a spare set of fresh bedclothes available can help you feel better and more comfortable. Encouragement from friends and family can help you to establish these routines.

If you or anyone you know is affected by anxiety, you can access free support via our Support Forum or Textcare service. You can also call SANEline for free guidance and information.