What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a common emotional state characterised by feelings of unease, such as worry or fear, that can range from mild to severe. Most people feel anxious from time to time.

In many cases, this can be helpful in providing motivation or keeping us safe from harm. However, when anxiety becomes excessive, it can interfere with our daily lives and lead to distress, avoidance, and even physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, stomach upsets or shortness of breath.iv

NOTE: If you are experiencing physical symptoms, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional urgently as they could also be caused by another serious health condition that requires immediate treatment.

Anxiety can arise in response to various life events or circumstances, such as work stress, financial worries, or relationship problems in your family, at work, with friends or your life partner. In some cases, anxiety can become a constant feeling, and persist even when there is no apparent stressor or threat.

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Anxiety is a natural human response to stress or perceived danger. It’s a feeling of unease, worry, or apprehension that can be caused by anything from a big event or major change to something as simple as a work presentation or meeting new people. In fact, anxiety is part of the body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ response that helps us react quickly to potential threats.

It is important to note that feeling anxiety is not the same as having an anxiety disorder, which is a diagnosable mental health condition characterised by persistent and intense feelings of anxiety that are out of proportion to the situation or event that triggered them. Rather, anxiety is a common and natural emotion. When it becomes persistent or overwhelming and interferes with daily life, it can turn into a problematic condition, that may be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. However, there are ways to manage it and reduce its impact.

This could involve using effective coping strategies and support, or changes to our circumstances or environment. Some of these changes require action at local and national government level to address some of the root causes of anxiety.

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health diagnoses characterised by excessive, persistent, and irrational fear or worry about everyday situations or events. These conditions are prevalent in the UK, with an estimated one in six adults (16%) likely to have some form of anxiety.ii

There are several types of anxiety disorders. Here are some examples:

Symptoms of anxiety disorders can vary from person to person and may include a combination of physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms. In the UK, anxiety disorders are often treated with a combination of therapy and medication.iii

Anxiety disorders are common and treatable mental health conditions that can significantly affect an individual’s quality of life. If you are experiencing anxiety that is becoming disabling, seeking professional help is important in order to receive an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

What can we do to cope with feelings of anxiety?

Dealing with anxiety can be hard. But there are some things we can do to manage these tough feelings. Have a read through our suggestions and find out what might work for you.

Mental Health Awareness Week 2023

On the theme of 'anxiety', this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is from 15 to 21 May 2023. Learn more about the week and how you can get involved.

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