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 is perfectly normal. Anxiety can spur us on, help us stay alert, make us aware of risks and motivate us to solve problems.
However, some people find it hard to control their worries. Their feelings of anxiety are more constant and can affect their daily life. Too much anxiety, or constantly being anxious, is unhealthy and detrimental to our lives and relationships.
There are different types of anxiety disorder. One of the most common is called ‘generalised anxiety disorder’ (or GAD). NHS Inform reports that around 1 in every 25 people in the UK suffer from GAD. Slightly more women are affected than men, and the condition is more common among people between the ages of 35 and 55.
The charity, Mind, explains that everyone’s experience of anxiety is different, so it is not always clear what causes anxiety problems. For most people, there may be many factors at work, which relate to past or childhood experiences, your current life situation, physical or mental health issues, or drugs and medication. According to NHS Inform, menopause can also be a trigger for anxiety in older women, due to hormonal changes in the body.
Anxiety can affect us physically and mentally. Some of the physical effects of anxiety include:
The mental effects of anxiety can include:
Anxiety can also have a big effect on your behaviour. You may stop meeting up with family or friends, feel unable to go out of your house or go to work, and start avoiding certain things and places that make you afraid. These sorts of behaviours might give you some temporary relief, but the anxiety will simply return the next time you’re in the situation. Avoidance of what you’re anxious about simply reinforces the feeling of anxiety, rather than giving you the chance to find out if your fears are justified.
Here’s a breathing exercise (recommended by the NHS) you can do anytime, anywhere, and you’ll get the most benefit from it if you do it regularly. You can do it standing up, sitting in a chair, or lying down.
Other things that can be helpful are:
Although feelings of anxiety at certain times are completely normal, you should see your GP if anxiety is affecting your daily life or causing you distress. While some people can manage their anxiety themselves, other people may need treatment. The charity, SAMH, provides tips for how to talk to your GP about your mental health.
Anxiety is the main symptom of several other conditions, including panic disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder (social phobia). If you have any of these conditions, your GP will be able to talk you through a more tailored approach to treating your anxiety.