Anxiety

This page is information on Anxiety

Anxiety
What is anxiety?
The ‘fight or flight’ reflex
Why are some people more anxious than others?
What are the effects of anxiety?
Physical effects
Psychological effects
Panic attacks
Health problems
Impact on work, leisure and relationships
Can I learn to manage my anxiety myself?

Anxiety

People who are depressed are often very anxious and anxiety also affects people who aren’t depressed. It’s not clear whether the anxiety leads into the depression or whether the depression causes the anxiety. A person feeling anxious may have a mind full of busy, repetitive thoughts, which make it hard to concentrate, relax, or sleep. They may have physical symptoms, such as headaches, aching muscles, sweating and dizziness. It may cause physical exhaustion and general ill health.

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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is something we all experience from time to time. Most people can relate to feeling tense, uncertain and, perhaps, fearful at the thought of sitting an exam, going into hospital, attending an interview or starting a new job. You may worry about feeling uncomfortable, appearing foolish or how successful you will be. In turn, these worries can affect your sleep, appetite and ability to concentrate. If everything goes well, the anxiety will go away. Short-term anxiety can be useful. Feeling nervous before an exam can make you feel more alert, and enhance your performance. However, if the feelings of anxiety overwhelm you, your ability to concentrate and do well may suffer.

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The ‘fight or flight’ reflex

Anxiety and fear are actually important for survival because they act as a mechanism to protect the body against stress or danger. Anxiety and fear trigger the release of hormones such as adrenalin. Adrenalin causes your heart to beat faster to carry blood where it’s most needed. You breathe faster to provide the extra oxygen required for energy. You sweat to prevent overheating. Your mouth may feel dry, as your digestive system slows down to allow more blood to be deflected to your muscles. Your senses become heightened and your brain becomes more alert. These changes enable the body to take action and protect itself in a dangerous situation, either by running away or fighting a foe. It is known as the ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Once the danger has passed, other hormones are released, which may cause you to shake as your muscles start to relax.

The response is useful for protecting you against physical dangers. However, your body reacts in the same way to situations that you find threatening but which you can’t deal with appropriately by fighting or running away. Situations like this may include public speaking, a driving test, driving on certain roads or having an injection.

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Why are some people more anxious than others?

Anxiety can be triggered by a number of factors. Something distressing may have happened to you in the past and because you were unable to deal with the emotions at the time, you may become anxious about encountering the situation again, just in case it stirs up the same feelings of distress.

You may worry about the future. Sometimes, if we feel we are not in control of different aspects of our lives, we can start to feel anxious about events beyond our control, such as the threat of a natural disaster, of being attacked, of developing cancer, or of losing a job. Feeling anxious can also be a learned response – something that you picked up early on in life. Your family may have tended to see the world as a hostile and fearful place, for example. Research suggests that people may even inherit a tendency to be more anxious. We all become anxious under pressure, but one person may succumb more easily than another, because of a mixture of personality, current circumstances and childhood experience. Anxiety is also the most “caught” feeling.

On a day-to-day basis, caffeine, excess sugar, poor diet, drug misuse, exhaustion, stress and the side effects of certain medication can also cause anxiety.

After a while, people can start to fear the symptoms of anxiety, especially feeling out of control. This sets up a vicious circle. They feel anxious because they dread feeling the symptoms of anxiety, and then they experience those symptoms because they are having anxious thoughts.

 

 

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What are the effects of anxiety?

Anxiety will have an effect on both the body and the mind.

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Physical effects

Increased muscular tension can cause discomfort and headaches. Breathing rapidly may make you feel light-headed and shaky, and give you pins and needles. Rising blood pressure can make you more aware of a pounding heart. Changes to the blood supply affecting the digestive system may also cause nausea and sickness. The effects on your nervous system may manifest themselves in an urgent need to visit the toilet, and butterfly feelings in the stomach. Panic attacks can also ensue.

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Psychological effects

The psychological effects of anxiety include fear, heightened alertness, being on edge, irritable, and unable to relax or concentrate. You may feel an overwhelming desire to seek the reassurance of others, to be weepy and dependent.

The way you think can be affected: you may fear that the worst is going to happen and slot everything that occurs into a pessimistic outlook on life. For example if a friend is late you worry that they have had an accident or don’t want to see you, when in fact their train was delayed.

To cope with these feelings and sensations, people may start smoking or drinking too much, or misusing any substance. They may start steering clear of certain situations, and maintain relationships that either support their anxious outlook or help them avoid situations they find distressing.

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Panic attacks

Sometimes, anxiety can take the form of a panic attack. This is the rapid build-up of overwhelming sensations, such as a pounding (and sometimes irregular) heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea, chest pains, breathing discomfort, feelings of losing control, shaky limbs and legs turning to jelly. It can make people afraid that they are going mad, blacking out, or having a heart attack. They may be convinced they are going to die in the course of the attack, making this a terrifying experience.

Panic attacks may sometimes occur for no reason, and people may not be able to understand why. They may feel as if their mind has gone totally out of control.

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Health problems

Long-term anxiety is bad for your health. It can weaken your immune system, lowering your resistance to infection. Increased blood pressure can cause heart or kidney problems, and contribute to the chances of having a stroke. You may experience digestive difficulties, along with other health problems.

You may also be depressed. Depression and anxiety often appear together, to the extent that doctors sometimes treat them in the same way.

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Impact on work, leisure and relationships

You may find it difficult to hold down a job, develop or maintain good relationships, or simply to enjoy leisure time. Sleep problems may further aggravate anxious feelings and reduce your ability to cope.

For some people, anxiety becomes so overwhelming that it takes over their lives. They may experience severe or very frequent panic attacks, for no apparent reason, or have a persistent, ‘free-floating’ sense of anxiety. Some may develop a phobia about going out and about, or may withdraw from contact with people, even their family and friends. Others have obsessive thoughts or repetitious behaviour, such as endlessly washing their hands. Problems of this kind are known as panic disorders or anxiety disorders. This does not mean a person has a serious mental health problem. However, it’s important to consult your GP, not only because help is available to tackle these difficulties, but also to eliminate any possible physical cause for the symptoms.

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Can I learn to manage my anxiety myself?

There are many things you can do to reduce your anxiety to a more manageable level. Taking action may make you feel more anxious at first. Even thinking about anxiety can make it worse. But facing up to anxiety, and how it makes you feel, can be the first step in breaking the cycle of fear and insecurity. It’s important to remember how much better you will feel when you can begin to relax, take control, and lead a fuller life.

Talking therapies have a proven longer lasting effect on anxiety treatment.

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