This content discusses anxiety, panic attacks, loneliness or isolation, trauma and substance abuse or addiction (which may include mentions of alcohol or drug use), which some people may find triggering.
- What is anxiety?
- What are the symptoms of anxiety?
- What is an anxiety disorder?
- What causes anxiety disorders?
- Getting support
- Ways you can look after yourself
What is anxiety?
It’s normal to feel anxious sometimes. It’s how we respond to feeling threatened, under pressure or stressed: for example, if we have an exam, job interview or doctor’s appointment.
Anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can spur us on, help us stay alert, make us aware of risks and motivate us to solve problems.
However, anxiety can be a problem if it affects your ability to live your life. If your anxiety is ongoing, intense, hard to control or out of proportion to your situation, it can be a sign of a mental health problem.
Help is available no matter how long you’ve felt anxious or severe your symptoms. There are many different types of treatment, so talk to your GP about all your options.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety can affect both your body and mind.
The effect on your mind can include:
- a feeling of dread or fearing the worst
- feeling on edge or panicky
- difficulty concentrating
- feeling detached from yourself or the world around you
Physical feelings can include:
- feeling dizzy or light-headed
- wobbly legs or pins and needles in your hands and feet
- shortness of breath or hyperventilating
- heart palpitations (a noticeably strong, fast heartbeat)
- nausea (feeling sick)
- needing the toilet more or less often
- sleep problems
- panic attacks
Anxiety can also affect your behaviour. You may withdraw from friends and family, feel unable to go to work, or avoid certain places. While avoiding situations can give you short-term relief, the anxiety often returns the next time you’re in the situation. Avoiding it only reinforces the feeling of danger and never gives you a chance to find out whether your fears are true or not.
Some people with anxiety may appear to be fine on the outside while still having some of the symptoms listed above. You may have developed ways of hiding your anxiety so that other people don’t notice it.
What is an anxiety disorder?
If your anxiety symptoms meet certain criteria, your GP may diagnose you with an anxiety disorder. Some common anxiety disorders include:
- generalised anxiety disorder – feeling anxious or worried most of the time
- panic disorder – having regular panic attacks, often for no apparent reason
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – having anxiety problems after experiencing a very stressful or frightening event
- social anxiety disorder – a fear or dread of social situations
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – having recurring unpleasant thoughts (obsessions) and performing certain routines (compulsions) to relieve anxiety
- phobias – an overwhelming fear of a specific object, place, situation or feeling
Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems. Up to 1 in 20 people in the UK have a generalised anxiety disorder.
What causes anxiety disorders?
Many different factors can make anxiety disorders more likely to happen. These include genetics, painful long-term health conditions, traumatic events such as childhood abuse or domestic violence, or drug or alcohol misuse. Your current life situation can also trigger anxiety – for example, money or housing problems, unemployment, work stress, loneliness, bullying, or difficult family or personal relationships.
There are different ways to treat and manage anxiety disorders. The right treatment for you will depend on your type of anxiety disorder, how severe it is and your circumstances.
The first step to getting support is usually to speak to your GP. This might feel hard, especially if your anxiety makes it difficult to speak on the phone or leave your home. See if you can book an appointment online or ask someone to call up to book it for you. They could also come with you to your appointment for support. Or you could refer yourself for talking therapy (in England only) if that feels easier.
Your GP will assess you during your appointment and then explain your treatment options.
Your GP may offer you self-help resources such as workbooks or online CBT courses. These are often available quite quickly and may be enough to help you feel better without trying other options. NHS Inform has an online anxiety self-help guide you can work through.
This involves working through your thoughts, feelings and behaviours with a mental health professional. Two kinds of therapy are particularly recommended for anxiety.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you learn strategies for recognising and overcoming distressing or anxious thoughts.
- Applied relaxation involves learning to relax your muscles in situations that usually make you anxious.
Different medications manage both the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety. Talk to your GP about which one might be right for you.
Ways you can look after yourself
- Talk about how you’re feeling and what's making you anxious. Just being heard and understood may make you feel better. You could open up to a friend or call Anxiety UK’s helpline.
- Look after your physical health. Eating well, staying physically active, avoiding cigarettes and alcohol and getting enough sleep can also help you manage anxiety better.
- Breathing exercises can help: our page on panic attacks has some suggestions. Some people find practising mindfulness useful, but be aware it isn't recommended for social anxiety.
- Consider joining a peer support group. They offer a safe place to share your experiences and worries with other people who also have an anxiety disorder. Ask your GP about local groups or visit our page on peer support. Anxiety UK offers online support groups.
Further resources and information
- Our guide on how to overcome fear and anxiety.
Anxiety UK was established in 1970 and is run by and for those with anxiety, offering an extensive range of support services designed to help support those affected by anxiety disorders, anxiety and anxiety-based depression.
Services available include:
Helpline services - 03444 775 774, open from 9:30am to 17:30pm Mon to Friday, along with a text service 07537 416905 and ‘Ask Anxia’ chatbot service, available 24/7 for all anxiety queries at anxietyuk.org.uk. See Helpline services for more information.
Anxiety UK also offer fast access to a range of psychological therapy services, including counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT), clinical hypnotherapy and Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, with appointments available in person, online and by telephone. See Therapy services for more information.
If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.