What is anxiety?

Anxiety is something we all experience from time to time. It is the feeling we get when our body responds to a frightening or threatening experience.  It is therefore a normal response to situations that we see as threatening. For example, if we had to go into hospital for an operation, or had to sit a driving test, or take an exam, it would be natural to feel anxious. Anxiety at certain levels can even be helpful in some situations such as when we need to perform well, or cope with an emergency.

However some anxiety is not at all helpful because:

  • Symptoms of anxiety whilst not dangerous, can be uncomfortable.
  • Symptoms can also be frightening, particularly if someone does not know that these symptoms are just signs of anxiety.
  • Sometimes people with anxiety symptoms worry that they may have something seriously wrong with them. This worry can then produce more anxiety symptoms which of course increases the worry!
  • When anxiety is severe and goes on for a long time it can stop people doing what they want to do.
  • If anxiety does on for a long time it can sometimes make physical problems worse, such as stomach problems, high blood pressure etc.

What causes anxiety?

There may be many causes of anxiety. Some people may have an anxious personality or have learned to worry. Or have had early experiences that make them feel anxious and insecure. Others may have a series of stressful life events to cope with, for example bereavements, redundancy, divorce. Others may feel under pressure at work, for example working long hours, feeling understaffed, or at home, for example because of financial, family or relationships problems.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

If you are regularly experiencing some or all of these symptoms, then it is likely that you are suffering from anxiety. The good news is that we can learn ways of reducing anxiety and getting it to be more manageable by: understanding anxiety better and beginning to tackle some of the causes, reducing physical symptoms, altering thoughts related to anxiety and/or changing behaviours related to anxiety.


  • Constant worrying
  • Can’t concentrate
  • Thoughts racing
  • Mind jumping from one thing to another
  • Imagining the worst and dwelling on it
  • Going over the same worries again and again

Common thoughts

  • “I’m losing control”
  • “I’m going to faint”
  • “My legs are going to collapse”
  • “I’m going to have a heart attack”
  • “I’m going to make a fool of myself”
  • “I can’t cope”
  • “I’ve got to get out”


  • Anxious, nervous, worried, frightened
  • Feeling something dreadful is going to happen
  • Tense, stressed, uptight, on edge, unsettled
  • Unreal, strange, woozy, detached, panicky

Physical sensations

Physical or Bodily Signs

  • Heart pounds, races, skips a beat
  • Chest feels tight or painful
  • Tingling or numbness in toes or fingers
  • Stomach churning or “butterflies”
  • Having to go to the toilet
  • Feeling jumpy or restless
  • Tense muscles
  • Body aching
  • Sweating
  • Breathing changes
  • Dizzy, light headed


  • Pace up and down
  • Start jobs and not finish
  • Can’t sit and relax
  • On the go all of the time
  • Talk quickly or more than usual
  • Snappy and irritable behaviour
  • Drink more alcohol
  • Eat more (or less)
  • Avoid feared situations
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