Anxiety is a common condition affecting anyone at any age. In 2023, a study by the Mental Health Foundation found Nearly three-quarters of the population (74%) had felt anxious at least sometimes in the previous two weeks, with more than one in five people (19%) anxious most or all of the time.
Anxiety is considered as fear, worry, uneasiness or nervousness, and for some people, anxiety might be a feeling relating to an activity or event. While it’s a feeling everyone will experience at some point in their lives, anxiety can be a debilitating condition when it feels out of control.
In some cases, anxiety disorders are a chronic condition which dramatically impacts a person’s livelihood because the symptoms are difficult to manage or they prevent someone from going about their day-to-day lives.
What does anxiety feel like?
Anxiety will feel different for everyone, but some common experiences of anxiety can include:
- An uneasy feeling in your stomach (butterflies, churning or nausea)
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- A rapid heart beat
- Feeling suddenly flushed
- Feeling like there is a lump in your throat
- Having a sense of dread
- Remembering negative experiences often
- Worrying that the people around you are upset with you
- Feeling like you cannot stop worrying about what might happen
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
When does anxiety become a problem?
When anxiety interrupts our ability to go about our daily lives or affects our quality of life, it can become problematic.
Anxiety can become a problem if:
- Your anxieties feel out of proportion to the situation
- Your social contact is significantly reduced or you fear situations that might make you anxious
- Your worries feel distressing or trigger panic attacks
- Your anxiety lasts for a long time or feels out of control
- The symptoms of anxiety worsen
What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety Disorders refer to a group of mental disorders characterised by feelings of anxiety and fear. These include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Generalised Anxiety Disorders (GAD) means having persistent or uncontrollable worries or fears about everyday life. People with GAD often have difficulty coping with their worry and their symptoms, which include fatigue, irritability, stress-induced muscle pain, tension, insomnia or disrupted eating.
- Panic Disorders are frequent panic attacks brought on suddenly by overwhelming feelings of anxiety. Sometimes panic attacks can happen without a trigger and they can be an unpleasant experience, which many people who have them live in fear of. During a panic attack a person might feel physical symptoms come on quickly and these include hyperventilation or struggling to breathe, heart palpitations, feeling disconnected from their surroundings, chest pain, nausea, shaking and sweating. When someone is having a panic attack, they might feel like they’re losing control, having a heart attack or about to faint.
- Phobias are overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety related to specific situations, objects, activities or animals. Many people have fears about particular things, such as a fear of snakes or spiders, but a fear can become a phobia if your feelings are out of proportion to the danger or it hinders you from going about your daily life, participating in activities or socialising. Symptoms can also include physical symptoms like nausea, panic, shake or heart palpitations.
- OCD is characterised by obsession and compulsions which dominate a person’s day, causing major distress. OCD significantly impacts someone’s quality of life as a person is overwhelmed by obsessive thoughts, which can cause them anxiety, or compulsive behaviour, such as repetitive activities, to the point they can’t function how they normally would.
- A Social Anxiety Disorder means a person is overwhelmed in social situations and will avoid social spaces, such as social obligations or work, because their fear is too intense. Social Anxiety Disorder is more extreme than shyness and can cause a person to have similar symptoms to a panic attack.
- PTSD is where a person is affected by intense and overwhelming symptoms after experiencing something traumatic. It can involve reliving the experience, flashbacks or nightmares. Other symptoms include hyper-vigilance, difficult sleeping, avoidance of social situations, inability to concentrate, outbursts of anger and feelings of guilt or fear. In Northern Ireland, PTSD is common. Research found that two thirds of the population have experienced a traumatic event at some point in their life and it’s estimated that 50% of all traumatic events were related to the Troubles.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety, fear and worry, although unpleasant, can be normal responses to certain situations and this reaction is called a Fight or Flight response.
Our Fight or Flight response is our body’s way of alerting us to potential difficulty or danger, whether it’s real or imagined. Our brain responds by releasing adrenaline and cortisol, which brings on symptoms of anxiety telling us to either flee from a situation or fight it. If you have an anxiety disorder, you might experience ongoing symptoms that last long after the threat is gone, which can make things feel worse than they are.
Anxiety can be influenced by a range of factors, including our genetics and lifestyle choices, including our routines, what we eat and the environments we’re exposed to, whether it’s a stressful work environment or a difficult home life. Some people may be predisposed to developing anxiety because of thinking patterns they developed as a child through learned behaviour or if their close relatives have a condition which they inherit.
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- Mental Health Foundation - What can we do to cope with feelings of anxiety? (PDF Download)
- Public Health Agency - Steps to deal with stress, a simple guide to stressing less and enjoying life more (PDF Download)
- NHS Inform - Anxiety Self Help Guide, work through a self-help guide for anxiety that uses cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)find out if you have symptoms of anxiety, understand more about anxiety, find ways to manage or overcome anxiety (Link to printable, online and to email to self)
- NHS Inform - Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) self-help guide, based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT helps you to examine how you think about your life, and find positive ways of exposing yourself to and managing challenges caused by OCD. (Link to printable, online and to email to self)
- NHS Inform - Phobias self-help guide, helps you to examine how you think, and challenge the negative automatic thoughts and unhelpful habits that keep phobias going.
- NHS Inform - Problems with anger self-help guide, anger can be caused by a range of different things – this guide aims to help you find where your anger is coming from, and learn ways of solving the problem.
- Quick look - End a Panic Attack in 3 minutes with these 4 easy steps and Distraction Techniques -
- Flight, Fight, Freeze Response Explained - This is your body's natural response to a situation it feels could potentially put you in danger (PDF Download)
- Mental Health Foundation partnered with Reflect and Refocus to support you to reconsider what rest means to you and how you can find ways to rest depending on your body's needs in this Rethinking Rest Guide (PDF Download)
- Healthline.co.uk - 30 Grounding Techniques to Quiet Distressing Thoughts - Grounding is a practice that can help you pull away from flashbacks, unwanted memories, and negative or challenging emotions. (Link)
- Mental Health Foundation - How to overcome fear and anxiety Guide Fear is one of the most powerful emotions. It has a very strong effect on your mind and body. Fear can create strong signals of response when we’re in emergencies – for instance if we are caught in a fire or are being attacked. This guide provides you with tips on how to overcome fear and anxiety. (PDF Download)
- Ease Morning Anxiety - Many people find that their anxiety is at its worst in the mornings. Racing thoughts, panic symptoms and excessive worry can strike as soon as you wake up, even before you have set foot on the floor. If you can relate to this, please be reassured, you are not alone. Morning anxiety is very common. (PDF Download)
- Alternative Thoughts & Images Worksheet - Is this fact or opinion? What am I reacting to? What other ways of looking at it are there? What’s the bigger picture? What advice would I give someone else? What might be a more helpful way of picturing it?
- FACE: Overcoming Avoidance, Overcome your anxiety by learning to FACE the situations you normally avoid (PDF Download)
- British Red Cross - Expert tips to tackle challenging times
- Better Health Every Mind Matters NHS - Tackling your worries, Worrying is part of life. We cannot eliminate it completely or control everything, but if your worries feel overwhelming there are lots of things you can try to manage or overcome them, including the "worry time" technique.
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- Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? By Dr Julie Smith - Filled with secrets from a therapist's toolkit, this is a must-have handbook for optimising your mental health. Dr Julie's simple but expert advice and powerful coping techniques will help you stay resilient no matter what life throws your way. (Amazon.co.uk)
- Anxiety: Panicking About Panic by Joshua Fletcher (Author, Narrator), John Murray One - In this informative, accessible guide, Joshua Fletcher draws on his own experiences to help others deal with anxiety. Now a counsellor, Josh lived with anxiety disorder before overcoming the condition. (Amazon.co.uk)
- Untangle Your Anxiety: A Guide To Overcoming An Anxiety Disorder By Two People Who Have Been Through It by Joshua Fletcher & Dean Scott - was written to help you overcome excessive anxiety. Having both been diagnosed in the past with anxiety disorders, then successfully overcoming them, Josh and Dean have written this honest and powerful self-help book as a reassuring aid in your recovery. (Amazon.co.uk)
- Stop Overthinking: 23 Techniques to Relieve Stress, Stop Negative Spirals, Declutter Your Mind, and Focus on the Present by Nick Trenton & Russell Newton - is a book that understands what you’ve been through, the exhausting situation you’ve put yourself into, and how you lose your mind in the trap of anxiety and stress. Acclaimed author Nick Trenton will walk you through the obstacles, with detailed and proven techniques, to help you rewire your brain, control your thoughts, and change your mental habits. (Amazon.co.uk)
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Simple Techniques to Instantly Be Happier, Find Inner Peace, and Improve Your Life by Olivia Telford - In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, you will discover exactly how to reinvent yourself, handle everything life throws your way, and find true happiness. It’s safe, drug-free, and scientifically proven to work. Using powerful exercises you can do at any time and place, you can choose a brighter future. (Amazon.co.uk)
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- What's normal anxiety -- and what's an anxiety disorder? | Body Stuff with Dr. Jen Gunter - YouTube Here Dr Jen discusses the importance of knowing the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder.
- What is the Cycle of Anxiety? - YouTube with Woody Schuldt licensed Mental Health Counsellor This video explains what happens when anxiety is untreated or avoided.
- CBT Self Help for Anxiety - YouTube From Getselfhelp.co.uk this video explains how to break the cycle of anxiety through Cognitive Behaviour Techniques
- The Court Case - YouTube From Getselfhelp.co.uk using the analogy of a courtroom where evidence must be presented this video helps you to challenge your anxious thoughts by asking you to provide facts to either support your thought or challenge it.
- Fact or Opinion? - YouTube From Getselfhelp.co.uk this video shows a thought challenging technique. Opinions drive emotion, so we need to come back to the facts.
- FACE Fear and Avoidance - YouTube From Getselfhelp.co.uk in this video shows you how to cope with the fear of overcoming anxiety by using the acronym Face- Find, Action, Coping and Evaluate.
- Signs of a Panic Attack - YouTube by Psych Hub Panic attacks are often described as feeling like dying followed by intense fear that it will happen again
- Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack - YouTube by Dr Julie Smith this video will explain the difference between an Anxiety Attack vs Panic Attack. What is a panic attack? What is an anxiety attack?
- What causes panic attacks, and how can you prevent them? - Cindy J. Aaronson - YouTube What causes panic attacks, and how can you prevent them? - Cindy J. Aaronson this video explains the science of what triggers panic attacks, how to recognize them, and the available treatments for panic disorder.
- How to cope with panic attacks - YouTube by Mind this video discussed practical tips for during and after a panic attack.
- The Do's of Assisting With Panic Attacks - YouTube by Psych2Go this video explains what to do if someone else is having a panic attack.
- What is Panic Disorder? - YouTube by Psych Hub this video explains what are the symptoms of a Panic disorder
- What are Cognitive Distortions? - YouTube by Woody Schuldt licensed Mental Health Counsellor this video discusses the 4 main negative irrational thought patterns called cognitive distortions.
- What is CBT? - YouTube by Woody Schuldt here in this video explains what Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is.
- How does CBT help with anxiety? | Mind of the Matter: Hear from the experts - YouTube by Blake Stobie, Consultant Clinical Psychologist who discusses how CBT is used to help with anxiety and how to find a CBT therapists/psychotherapist
- Anxiety Breathing Animation - YouTube by No Panic this video will take you through some breathing techniques to help with anxiety.
- 1 Hour Relaxing Sounds with Soft Spoken ASMR for Anxiety - YouTube by the Mix if you are Struggling with anxiety, feeling down, or just looking to relax your mind?Let the soothing sounds of the beach take you away with our accompanying relaxing tones and the calming voices of some of the UK's best ASMRtists!
- Incredible animation on battling and overcoming anxiety - BBC - YouTube by the BBC this animation explains the experiences of those who are experiencing or experienced anxiety.
- are you okay? | Award-Winning Short Film - YouTube by Fight Child Abuse This animated short film project of the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center Foundation was produced in collaboration with Wonder Media and the Joshua Center at the University of Washington. Directed by Ryan Cannon. "Are you okay?" was named 2021 Best Animated Short at the Los Angeles One-Reeler Film Festival.
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