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What we treat

Anxiety and worry

It's normal to be anxious when dealing with stressful events or big life changes. Worrying a little day-to-day isn’t a cause for concern either. But if your worrying becomes out-of-proportion or is frequent, and is overwhelming you and your thoughts, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder and it might be time to seek help.

Anxiety is a natural human response to the perception of a threat. Sometimes that natural response goes into overdrive and gets the better of us, dominating our thoughts to no good effect. When this happens, a ‘trigger’ of some sort has transformed normal levels of worry into anxiety (or, more precisely, ‘anxiety disorder’) — something more serious that needs treatment.

Anxiety disorders

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety manifests itself in many different ways. If you’re suffering from anxiety, you’ll be experiencing regular and exaggerated worries about a number of different things in your everyday life. Worries about health, money, family, work or school will monopolise your thoughts and will be out of proportion with the threats these pose. There are lots of symptoms linked to anxiety, so don’t be surprised if your symptoms are different from those experienced by other people. The following list sets out some of the more common symptoms, but you may well experience others:

  • Pins and needles
  • Shallow breathing, or breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense 
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling sick or dizzy 
  • Trembling
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal problems, such as IBS
  • A fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sweating or hot flushes 
  • Feeling weak or tired 
  • Muscle tension
  • Feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having a sense of looming danger, panic or doom
  • Worrying about anxiety itself (worrying that you’re worrying too much)
  • Feeling like you’re losing touch with reality
  • Feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax 
  • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Avoiding everyday situations that trigger anxiety
  • Being unable to enjoy leisure time, such as time off work, holidays or hanging out with friends 
  • Being bad-tempered

Causes of anxiety

There are lots of possible factors that can trigger anxiety. While people with a phobia or panic disorder can usually identify the specific trigger for their symptoms, with anxiety it's not always easy to pinpoint exactly what is causing the anxiety.

Common triggers include:

  • A family history of anxiety
  • Long-term exposure to a stressful situation, such as a death in the family or ongoing worries about money
  • Having a health condition or serious illness
  • Exhaustion
  • Certain medications
  • Bullying, harassment or abuse
  • Feeling lonely or isolated
  • Having hidden medical problems such as heart disease or diabetes
  • Homelessness or housing problems

How to look after yourself when living with anxiety

It’ll be difficult to stop worrying when you have anxiety. There may be worries you feel you can’t control or you may worry about situations that are out of your control. Or you might feel like you need to continue worrying because it feels useful, or that bad things will happen if you stop.

Luckily, there are ways to try to begin to address these worries. For example, you can:

  • Keep a diary of worries to get them out of your head and ‘see’ and understand them more clearly
  • Find an appropriate time in your daily activities for a 'worry time' slot and then, the next time a worry comes up, put off thinking about it until that slot
  • Talk things through with a person you trust
  • Look after your physical health: get enough sleep, eat a healthy, balanced diet, and — if you’re able to — engage in regular physical activity
  • Do breathing exercises as these can calm you down, and help you feel in control and may also help with some of the physical symptoms, such as headaches and muscle tension

How to support a loved one with anxiety

It can be difficult to know how best to help a friend or family member who is experiencing episodes of anxiety. Here are some things to consider:

Consider the unintended effects of your support

When we see our loved ones suffering, we tend instinctively to help them avoid the situations they find scary. Let’s say that your loved one is particularly worried about driving on a motorway. On a trip together you might encourage them to take a different route so they avoid the motorway. 

This will help them feel less anxious in the short term. However, avoiding upsetting situations can actually keep their anxiety condition going for longer. Of course, it’s important not to force anyone into an uncomfortable situation before they’re ready. But it’s useful to be aware of how you might accidentally be helping to strengthen rather than weaken their anxiety.

When in doubt, ask

Anxiety is a very complex condition. It reveals itself in very different ways depending on the person. No two sufferers will have exactly the same symptoms, so it can be really helpful to find out as much as possible about your loved one's personal experience of anxiety.

Ask them about how it affects their life and if there’s anything in particular that they’d find helpful. If you’re respectful and understanding about the situation, and you make sure they’re comfortable talking to you about it, you might be surprised at the number of small things you can do that will have a positive impact on their anxiety.

Be patient and understanding

It’s fairly common for someone suffering from anxiety to be unable to fully explain what is wrong. They might not understand why they’re feeling the way they are. It’s vital to be patient with them and to take things at whatever pace they find comfortable. When they have an episode of anxiety, make sure you don’t dismiss it. Instead, take the time to sit, talk calmly and reassure them. This can go a huge way towards relieving their symptoms. Remember that someone with anxiety is often unable to control their worries. It isn’t just a case of ‘snapping out of it’.

Start the process

If you would like to find out about other mental health support options available in your area, visit the NHS website.

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