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What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is that feeling we experience when we feel worried, uneasy or afraid. This feeling is a natural response when we feel under threat, it is a normal and sometimes even a useful emotion at times.

We all experience some feelings of anxiety - be it before an exam or interview, or an important presentation at work. It is totally normal to feel like this in these situations. Anxiety is part of the “Fight or Flight'' response – when we experience fear or feel in danger, our nervous system kicks in and prepares us to fight, or flee! This is an evolutionary response, which can be helpful; for example if you feared that you were going to be attacked, your body responds by preparing to run away or fight back.

So anxiety in itself is not a bad thing. However, some people struggle to control their worries, and can feel anxious much of or all of the time. This can be mild or severe, and can be in response to certain triggers or more generalised. Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and social anxiety disorder. “Generalised Anxiety Disorder” is a long-term condition where you feel anxious about a wide range of situations or issues, rather than a specific trigger or event. This is estimated to affect between 2 and 7% of the population globally, varying by country.

Anxiety can present itself in many ways. Some ways it can affect the mind and your behaviour are:

  • Worrying a lot

  • Feeling self-conscious

  • Fear of criticism, rejection, being alone

  • Avoiding certain triggers or reactions

  • Feeling irritable, or “on edge” and unable to relax & restless

  • Forgetfulness

  • Loss of interest in sex

Anxiety also has a LOT of physical symptoms, including:-

  • Fast heart rate and/or palpitations

  • Dizziness

  • Sweating or shaking

  • Dry mouth

  • Tiredness

  • Stomach aches, sickness and diarrhoea

  • Headaches

  • Pins and needles

  • Tiredness

  • Difficulty sleeping

A lot of the physical symptoms in particular can feel extremely scary. These symptoms are as a result of the “fight or flight” response, which releases adrenaline and noradrenaline into your system in “preparation”. The digestive system shuts down; your heart starts beating faster; your breathing increases to increase the oxygen in your blood; more blood goes to your muscles; you start to sweat; your peripheral vision fades… your body is now ready to fight the predator… exam?! These symptoms can be scary, and can be quite intrusive, especially if they are in response to your own thoughts and worries.

It is still not very well understood what causes some people to develop severe anxiety, but it is likely that a combination of factors play a role, including genetics, a history of stressful or traumatic life experiences, brain chemistry, chronic pain and drug and alcohol misuse. However, many people develop Generalised Anxiety Disorder with no obvious “cause”.

Fortunately, there are many treatments that are available to help to make the symptoms of anxiety easier to cope with, including psychological therapies and medication. It is also proven that regular exercise, reducing alcohol and smoking and learning to relax can all improve anxiety. Many people do not realise that caffeine can worsen anxiety too; it speeds up your heart rate and can disrupt sleep, which can start a vicious cycle of using caffeine for that boost! Reducing caffeine containing drinks can help to reduce anxiety symptoms.

If you feel like you could do with some tips and guidance on how to manage stress and anxiety levels, you are in the right place! However, if your anxiety levels are high a lot of the time and you feel this is interrupting your life, reach out to your doctor for medical advice.

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