What is anxiety?
Anxiety is felt when we are particularly worried, afraid, stressed, or scared. These feelings might occur if you are especially worried about something that is about to happen, or something that might happen to you in the future.
It’s normal to feel anxious, and anxiety can actually be helpful when we need to prepare for an upcoming challenge or take extra caution in tense situations. Our body can take over in what is often known as the ‘fight or flight’ response; an automatic physical response where our body releases hormones like adrenaline in situations where we feel threatened. These hormones allow us to act fast and stay alert, helping to protect us from danger. Once the threat has passed, more hormones are released to allow us to relax.
However, anxiety can become a mental health issue if these feelings occur too often or begin to get in the way of everyday life.
Anxiety may cause you to avoid situations that make you feel anxious, or stop you from doing the things you enjoy. You might also feel unable to control your worries, or your worries might spiral out of proportion to the situation. Some people can experience feelings of anxiety for a long period of time, or at such an intensity that it becomes particularly upsetting.
Some people with anxiety may also experience panic attacks. This is a type of fear response, where our ‘fight or flight’ goes into overdrive and causes a physical and emotional reaction that can be distressing. Panic attacks can occur at any time of day and may last up to half an hour, and are usually triggered by a particular place or situation.
Read more about what it’s like to experience a panic attack below.
There are many different ways you can experience anxiety, and some specific combinations of symptoms are categorised into recognised anxiety disorders. Some of these include: generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), and health anxiety.
The effects of anxiety can be experienced by anyone from any background. In 2013, the Mental Health Foundation found that 8.2 million cases of anxiety had been diagnosed with the UK. In England, women are also twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as men.
Anxiety can be an exhausting, all-consuming mental health condition. Living with worry and fear takes up a lot of energy, and can affect all areas of your life. It is therefore important to seek professional help for your anxiety if it begins to negatively impact your health and wellbeing.