Close Button

Understanding and managing anxiety

Understanding and managing anxiety

Did you know that in the UK it is reported that over eight million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time (Mental Health UK)? With so many people struggling with anxiety, the chances are that you, a close friend or a family member may be too.

Anxiety can affect your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing so taking back control of your mind is the first step to breaking free. This is our guide to understanding and managing this mental health condition so you can get the help you need or signpost someone who may need it.

Disclaimer: It is always important to seek professional help and support from your GP or from a mental health charity such as Mind, Anxiety UK or The Samaritans. This article acts as a guide to understanding and managing anxiety and should not be used to self-diagnose.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling we experience when we’re worried, fearful or uneasy, often about the potential of something going wrong in the future, but it can also arise from something happening at the moment.

Feelings of anxiety are a natural human response to stressful situations and are a part of the ‘fight or flight’ response. However, if it impacts your ability to live your life as you want to it could be a more serious problem.

What are the different types of anxiety?

There are many types of anxiety disorders which trigger different symptoms and have a variety of causes.

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – this means having regular or uncontrollable worries about many different things in your everyday life. In any given week in England, six in 100 people will be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (Mind)
  • Panic disorder – having regular or frequent panic attacks without a clear cause or trigger. This creates a vicious cycle and you’re constantly anxious and afraid of having another panic attack
  • Social anxiety disorder/Social phobia – experiencing extreme fear or anxiety around social situations such as parties, workplace environments or talking to people
  • Health anxiety – this is when you worry non-stop about being ill or becoming ill and this worry starts to take over your life

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Phobias, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Perinatal anxiety, Perinatal OCD or Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) are also anxiety disorders. Visit Mind for more information.

If you’re perimenopausal or in the midst of the menopause, changes in your hormones can impact your mental health as well as your physical health. So, you may experience feelings of anxiety, stress or even depression. Read our article on mental health and the menopause for support and advice.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can manifest itself in a number of ways and can affect your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.

Physical symptoms

  • Your pulse/heartbeat feels fast, thumping or irregular and your breathing is quicker
  • Feeling restless
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • A churning feeling in your tummy and feeling sick
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • General aches and pains and/or pins and needles
  • Sweating and hot flushes
  • Panic attacks
  • Changes to your sex drive
  • Grinding your teeth (mostly at night)
  • Needing to go to the toilet more or less often

Mental symptoms and your thought processes

The following are some thought patterns that are often as a result of anxiety disorders.

  • Depersonalisation – a type of dissociation where you feel disconnected from your mind or body, or like you are a character in a film you are watching
  • Rumination – thinking a lot about bad experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again
  • Derealisation– another type of dissociation where you feel disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn't real

Restlessness, feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax, having a sense of dread or fearing the worst, difficulty concentrating, worrying that others are looking at you and needing lots of reassurance are just some of the ways anxiety can affect your mind.

Depending on the type of anxiety disorder you’re struggling with, you may begin to withdraw from situations such as social occasions or going to work. In the long-term, this can make you worry even more and can damage your self-esteem.

What can trigger anxiety?

There are so many possible causes of anxiety and everyone’s experience is different. Below are four factors that can trigger anxiety.

  1. Difficult experiences in your childhood, adolescence or adulthood such as physical or emotional abuse, neglect, being bullied, or losing a loved one
  2. Current problems in your life such as:
    • Feeling burnt out, exhausted from a build-up of stress
    • Feeling under pressure at work, working long hours or being out of work. Did you know that an estimated 822,000 workers are affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety every year (Health and Safety Executive)?worth checking with Fay
    • Struggling with money, housing problems or homelessness
    • Bereavement
    • Worrying about the environment or natural disasters (climate/eco-anxiety)
    • Feelings of loneliness or being isolated
    • Suffering from abuse or racism
  3. Living with a serious, chronic or life-threatening health problem
  4. Other mental health problems such as depression can lead to developing anxiety
  5. Some medications can have side-effects of anxiety

Ways to manage anxiety

There are many coping strategies for managing anxiety, including relaxation techniques, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and self-care practices. Should we add in your GP or specialist will help you identify the best option for you? Discover this useful list created by Mind.

Anxiety can affect your breathing, so if you’re reading this and feeling anxious, we recommend trying some breathing techniques. Breathe in through your nose to the count of four, hold it for seven counts and exhale through your mouth to the count of eight. How did this make you feel? Hopefully it helped to calm you, and focusing on your breathing can bring you back to the present, which is a good place to start.

You can also make positive lifestyle changes to help to reduce and manage your anxiety, for example: exercising regularly to help destress and relax, maintaining a healthy balanced diet, aiming to sleep for seven to nine hours, and avoiding substances that can make your anxiety symptoms worse such as alcohol.

Focusing on self-care and caring for yourself is key in managing anxiety, be kind to yourself and seek help.

Don’t suffer in silence

If you’re struggling with symptoms of anxiety, remember you’re not alone. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. This could be a friend, a family member, your GP or a counsellor. Or you could contact one of the charities listed below.

  • Anxiety Care UK - Helps people with anxiety disorders
  • Anxiety UK - Advice and support for people living with anxiety
    • 03444 775 774 (helpline)
    • 07537 416 905 (text)
  • Mind
    • Mind's helplines provide information and support by phone and email.
    • Local Minds offer face-to-face services across England and Wales. These services include talking therapies, peer support and advocacy.
  • Samaritans
    • 116 123 (freephone)

What are the treatments for anxiety?

According to the Mental Health Foundation, less than 50% of people with generalised anxiety disorder access treatment. Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition as are many of the other disorders previously mentioned but there are pathways and treatments which can help you to live a life where you’re not ruled by your anxiety.

  • Psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Medication – the healthcare practitioner will consider the appropriate medication for you which could include:
    • Antidepressants – such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor and Serotonin and Noradrenaline Reuptake Inhibitors
    • Benzodiazepines
    • Pregabalin
  • Referral to a specialist
    • Psychiatrists
    • Psychiatric nurses
    • Clinical psychologists
    • Occupational therapists
    • Social workers

If you think you might have anxiety, or would like to discuss ways of managing your anxiety, our fast access GP services can help. Book your appointment online today or contact our Private Patient team via Livechat or on 01580 363158.

Published on 19 May 2023