Anxiety – What is it?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life – for example, you may feel worried and anxious about sitting an exam, or having a medical test or job interview. During times like these, feeling anxious can be perfectly normal.

However, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can often affect their daily lives.


Often anxiety disorders start early in life, between the ages of 10 and 25. Women are twice as likely as men to suffer with anxiety conditions. For millions of people in the UK, anxiety is not something that comes and goes – people can live in a near permanent state of heightened anxiety.

Even when there are no obvious external factors, sufferers can experience all the physical and emotional anxiety symptoms. To many people, the fears and worries of those with anxiety may seem irrational; we often hear of people being told to ‘stop worrying’, ‘think positively or ‘stop over thinking things’.

Cause and symptoms of it

On the face of it we have all experienced times of anxiousness and stress and will have experienced the racing heart, sweating and ‘wired’ feeling associated with it. Within the family of anxiety disorders come several conditions including:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Panic disorders
  • Phobias
  • Performance anxiety
  • Social anxiety
  • Post traumatic stress disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Claustrophobia

Anxiety symptoms are caused, on the whole, by a series of complicated chemical reactions.

In one of these reactions, when we feel stressed, chemicals are released from a part of the brain called the amygdala. Not everyone will experience all of these symptoms below, but often people experience the same symptoms of anxiety again and again.

Physical symptoms of anxiety:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Increased heart rate
  • Breathlessness
  • Muscle tension
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Tingling sensation
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Churning of stomach
  • Headaches
  • Needing toilet more often
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep difficulties

Emotional symptoms of anxiety:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling tense and on edge
  • Noise intolerance
  • Sense of dread or fear
  • Feeling world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Thinking other people know you are anxious and looking at you
  • Worrying that you are losing touch with reality
  • Thinking about bad experiences or situations over and over again
  • Worrying about the future
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself or the world around you


Many people do not seek help for their anxiety problems, some may be ashamed, others too afraid to reach out for help. Left untreated anxiety can have a significant effect on your daily life, but several different treatments are available that can ease your symptoms. These include:

  • talking therapies can be particularly effective.
  • psychological therapy – such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • medication – such as a type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)