Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear which, when persistent and impacting on daily life may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Generalised Anxiety Disorder, which is one common type of anxiety disorder, is estimated to impact 5.9% of adults in England1.

Symptoms

Symptoms of anxiety include changes in thoughts and behaviour such as2:

  • Restlessnes
  • A feeling of dread
  • A feeling of being “on-edge”
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability

It can also involve physical feelings such as dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations (a noticeably strong, fast heartbeat), sweating, shortness of breath, headache, or dry mouth.

Occasionally feeling anxious, particularly about events or situations that are challenging or threatening, is a normal and extremely common response. However, if feelings of anxiety regularly cause significant distress or they start to impact on your ability to carry out your daily life, for example withdrawing or avoiding contact with friends and family, feeling unable to go to work, or avoiding places and situations then it may be a sign of an anxiety disorder2.

Types of Anxiety Disorder

There are different types of anxiety disorder, each of which will have slightly different symptoms and treatment. Some examples of anxiety disorders include2-5:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder (regular sudden attacks of panic or fear)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Specific Phobias (overwhelming and incapacitating fear of a specific object, place, situation or feeling)

Causes

There are many different factors that may contribute to the development of mental health problems like anxiety disorders. These factors include biological factors (for example genetics6, experience of chronic physical illness or injury7 and psychological or social factors (experiences of trauma or adversity in childhood8, struggles with income or poverty1, employment status1, family and personal relationships, and living or work environment1.

Getting Support

There are a range of approaches for treatment and management of anxiety disorders, and the most appropriate method will vary depending on the type and severity of anxiety disorder, and personal circumstances.

Some common approaches to managing and treating anxiety disorders include:

Psychological Therapies:

This can involve working through thoughts, feelings and behaviours with a clinical psychologist or other mental health professional in regular sessions over a set period of time.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helps to teach strategies for recognising and overcoming distressing or anxious thoughts, is one of the most common therapies for treatment and management of anxiety disorders2,3,5.

Self-Help and Self-Management:

This involves specially-designed resources (like information sheets, workbooks, exercises, or online programmes and courses) to support people to manage their feelings of anxiety in their own time.

Some of these approaches may involve the support of a therapist or other mental health professional, and some may be entirely self-led2-5.

Group Support:

Group sessions with other individuals experiencing similar problems where people can work through ways of managing anxiety. Some groups may involve the support of a therapist or other mental health professional2.

Medication:

Your GP or other healthcare provider can discuss different medication options to manage both the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. There is a range of medication that can be used to manage anxiety and it is important to discuss with your GP which one would be most appropriate for your circumstances2.

For more information about medication for anxiety disorders, visit the NHS Choices website.

Other Approaches

There may be other treatments or approaches available that are not outlined here. If you are considering support for anxiety disorders, we recommend getting in touch with your GP or primary care provider to discuss which approach may be best for you.

Further Resources and Information:

Date Last Updated:

This page was last updated on 01/12/2018.

References

  1. McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014.Leeds: NHS digital. Retrieved from: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/pdf/t/6/adult_psychiatric_study_ch2_web.pdf
  2. NHS Choices. (2016). Generalised Anxiety Disorder in Adults. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/generalised-anxiety-disorder/
  3. NHS Choices. (2017). Panic Disorder. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/panic-disorder/
  4. NHS Choices. (2018). Phobias. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phobias/
  5. NHS Choices. (2017). Social Anxiety. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-anxiety/
  6. Otowa, T., Hek, K., Lee, M., Byrne, E.M., Mirza, S.S., Nivard, M.G., … et al. (2016). Meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies of anxiety disorders. MoI Psychiatry, 21(10), 1391-1399. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940340/
  7. Niles, A.N., Dour, H.J., Stanton, A.L., Roy-Byrne, P.P., Stein, M.B., Sullivan, G., … et al. (2015). Anxiety and depressive symptoms and medical illness among adults with anxiety disorders. J Psychosom Res, 78(2), 109-115. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4297513/
  8. Hughes, K., Bellis, M.A., Hardcastle, K.A., Sethi, D., Butchart, A., Mikton, C., … et al. (2017). The effect of multiple adverse childhood experiences on health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health, 2(8), 356-366. Retrieved from: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(17)30118-4/fulltext