About anxiety

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a word that is used to describe feelings of worry, unease or fear. Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Anxiety is the body’s natural response to situations that make us feel nervous or scared. For example, we might experience anxiety about an exam, or a job interview, or an operation or hospital appointment. Some level of anxiety is good and can help us to perform or prepare; however, constant anxiety or extreme anxiety in everyday situations is less helpful to us.

What happens when we feel anxious?

When we feel anxious this triggers our ‘internal alarm system’ and the body is put on ‘high alert’. This system is designed to protect us from harm or danger. Adrenaline is released, the heart beats faster and boosts oxygen to the limbs, in order to prepare us to either fight a threat or run away from it. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response. This is very helpful if we are in immediate danger, but if we feel anxious all the time or in an everyday situation, the body prepares for threat and goes to ‘high alert’, even though there is no actual danger.

What does anxiety feel like?

Anxiety can feel different for everyone, but there are some common signs that you are experiencing high levels of anxiety:

How you may feel:

  • Nervous, worried or on-edge
  • Feeling that something awful is going to happen
  • Tense, frightened and uptight
  • Constantly stressed and pressured

How you may think:

  • Constant worrying and going over and over the same worries or thoughts
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating; distracted from doing other things
  • Trying to find a solution, but feel like you are going around in circles
  • Your mind is racing and you are thinking about lots of worries at once

How your body may react:

  • Faster breathing or breathlessness
  • Palpitations (an irregular heartbeat)
  • Feeling sick / nauseous
  • Chest pains
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling faint
  • Needing the toilet more frequently
  • Butterflies in your stomach

These thoughts, feelings and physical sensations can be really unpleasant and scary and you might worry that something is physically wrong. This is a common worry for people who feel anxious, but these symptoms, although very unpleasant, do not cause direct harm.

How does what I do affect my anxiety?

Our thoughts, feelings and behaviours are all linked. What we think can affect how we feel and what we do. If we feel worried, it is natural to want to avoid situations that make us feel more anxious and stay at home where it is ‘safe’. However, this tends to reinforce the worries and thoughts can end up going round and round in our mind. By avoiding doing things, there is more space to think anxious thoughts, which then feeds into the worry, meaning we are even more reluctant to do the things we find challenging.

When we feel anxious a lot, it can make us feel scared that we won’t ever feel better. We might start to avoid doing things because we are scared of the symptoms of anxiety. We become anxious about being anxious.

If you are feeling anxious a lot of the time and this is having a big impact on your everyday life or stopping you from functioning, you might want to consider going to see your GP. Your GP can help you to access talking therapies which might be available to help you understand these feelings better.

There are some things you can do to help manage your anxiety. See our information on Managing worry and anxiety and Relaxation to manage anxiety

Managing worry and anxiety


Relaxation to manage anxiety


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