Anxiety is often used to describe feelings of unease, worry and fear. You may have heard of the term ‘anxiety’ in relation to mental health and wellbeing. But exactly what is anxiety?
It’s helpful to learn more about anxiety and other mental health problems, especially if you’re going through a difficult time and experiencing some challenging feelings, or trying to support someone who is.
That’s why we’ve created the mental health information page below — to give you a comprehensive overview of anxiety, and exactly what people mean when they talk about it.
In the guide below, we’ll be providing a general overview of anxiety, including how to tell if you have anxiety, how it makes you feel, and what you should do if you think you have anxiety.
Read on to find out more.
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense, nervous or afraid of something.
Anxiety is a natural, if unpleasant, human response to stresses or potential threats. We all experience these feelings at some point in our lives and it’s perfectly natural to do so, especially if you’re nervous about something, like an important job interview or a big decision. Anxiety usually settles once the stressful situation has passed.
But sometimes, these feelings don’t go away, or they feel very strong and they make our lives extremely difficult, causing us to avoid situations or stop us from enjoying the things we normally would. They can manifest in unpleasant mental and physical symptoms which could be distressing and hard to control. If this is the case, then you may have a type of mental health problem that we call anxiety.
Anxiety is an umbrella term: there are a few different types of anxiety, each with varying symptoms and defining characteristics. Sometimes, anxiety can be felt in reference to specific stressful external events, such as presentations or exams. This is known as situational anxiety. In situational anxiety, the symptoms of anxiety are normally limited to a specific situation and aren’t triggered by other parts of their life. When anxiety symptoms spread into other parts of your life, it could be an anxiety disorder such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
You can learn more about the most common types of anxiety disorders on our ‘5 Main Types of Anxiety’ page.
You’ve probably heard of depression — depression is one of the most common mental health problems alongside anxiety. In fact, lots of people experience depression over the course of their lives, and there’s a chance that you may know someone who is affected by depression.
Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time. We all feel low at times, but these feelings will usually pass; if they don’t, then you may have depression.
Depression can make you feel deeply unhappy and hopeless, affecting your everyday life to the point where it is hard or impossible to have fun, enjoy the things you used to, or complete everyday tasks. The symptoms of depression can sometimes overlap with the symptoms of anxiety.
You can learn more about depression — including symptoms, causes and treatments — on our Mental Health Disorders page.
Although depression is a different mental health problem to anxiety, the terms are often used alongside each other.
In fact, a lot of people who have depression will also experience anxiety too. Approximately half of people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) will also have depression. This is what we mean when we say ‘anxiety and depression’. This is sometimes also called ‘mixed anxiety and depressive disorder’ (MADD).
Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain, with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis.
Okay, so now we know what anxiety is. But how do you know if you have anxiety?
It can be hard to know the difference between normal feelings of anxiousness or stress and an anxiety disorder that may need a bit of extra attention and support to treat. Mental health problems like anxiety can often creep up on you gradually, making it harder to notice or recognise symptoms initially.
Here are some indications that your feelings of anxiety may be a mental health problem:
If some of these sound familiar, then you may have an anxiety disorder.
It’s also helpful to know what the symptoms of anxiety are. We’ll go into those in more detail below.
Anxiety can be experienced through a number of different physical and psychological symptoms.
Anxiety symptoms vary from person to person, so your experience of anxiety may be different from what other people experience.
These symptoms may also change depending on the anxiety disorder you have. We’ve listed the most common symptoms of the five main types of anxiety disorders here.
However, here are some of the more common physical symptoms of anxiety:
Here are some common psychological (mental) symptoms:
Many people experience anxiety on a regular basis - it is the body's response to a stressful situation. It is not uncommon to experience the symptoms of anxiety before a stressful situation, like an interview, presentation, speech, or exam.
Feeling anxiety before and during these situations is completely normal. However, some people may experience more severe symptoms in these situations than others. If you find that your symptoms of anxiety mean that you struggle to do these kinds of activities, you may suffer from situational anxiety.
In situational anxiety, the psychological and physiological symptoms of anxiety are confined to the event itself, and does not affect your day-to-day life. If your symptoms of anxiety start to apply to a wide range of situations, occur most days and you feel that you struggle to relax, it is likely that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, such as GAD.
Social anxiety — also known as social phobia — is a particular type of anxiety disorder which causes the sufferer to have an intense fear or dread of social situations.
We all feel nervous or shy at times, particularly when we are faced with a social situation that we are uncomfortable with. This could be a date, a presentation at work, or going to a party.
However, for some people, these feelings of anxiety either before, during or after a social situation can be overwhelming and extremely distressing.
Social anxiety is not just ‘shyness’ — it’s a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations that can have a big impact on someone’s life. It can cause such strong fear and worry that it can affect everyday activities, self-esteem and confidence, relationships, friendships and work or school life.
Here are some indications that you may have social anxiety:
People with social anxiety don’t find all of these situations a problem — it could just be certain ones. If any of the above stops you from doing normal everyday things, performing to the best of your ability, or you feel like you’re unable to cope in certain situations, then you may have social anxiety.
It’s also helpful to know the physical and psychological symptoms of social anxiety. You can find out more about those in the section below.
People can experience lots of different symptoms of social anxiety.
However, there are some more common physical symptoms of social anxiety that people generally experience (this could be before or during a triggering social situation):
Here are some common psychological (mental) symptoms:
Many people with social anxiety also have other mental health issues, such as generalised anxiety disorder or panic disorder.
Feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal. However, if you’ve read all of the information above and you think you have anxiety — and that it is affecting your daily life or causing you distress — then it’s a good idea to visit your GP or self-refer for psychological therapy (CBT).
Your GP is there to help you with your mental health as well as your physical health. They will do an assessment and will ask you some questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing, as well as finding out more about your mental wellbeing, worries and fears.
From there, they’ll be able to make a diagnosis, offer support and suggest next steps like treatments.
There are a few different treatments that can help with anxiety symptoms:
Your GP should explain your treatment options to you, and you can decide together which options might suit you best.
As we’ve mentioned above, in terms of medication for anxiety, there are two main options:
These different types of medication are prescription-only and can help to manage your symptoms.
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense, nervous or afraid. It is a natural human response to stresses or potential threats and it will usually pass.
If these feelings don’t go away, or they feel very strong and are difficult to cope with, then anxiety can become a mental health problem. If you are experiencing this then you may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is an umbrella term; there are a few different types of anxiety disorder, each with varying symptoms and defining characteristics, including social anxiety, which we have covered above.
Sometimes, people with anxiety will also experience depression — roughly 50% of people with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) have depression too. Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental disorder in Britain.
If you think you have anxiety and you need help, there is plenty of support you can get and treatments that will reduce your symptoms, such as propranolol, which is available to buy from The Independent Pharmacy to treat short-term situational anxiety.
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