What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal emotional and physiological response to feeling threatened. People differ as to how vulnerable they feel in different situations: this can be influenced by past experiences, family of origin, as well as beliefs and attitudes they hold.

Some general situations that could cause anxiety include:

A combination of factors can lead to a person developing anxiety. It is useful to look at your family of origin and other stressful life events (moving house, job loss or other losses, illness, pregnancy or giving birth, work stress or exams, family and relationship problems, death, major emotional shock following a stressful or traumatic event), all of which play a part in the development of anxiety.

Sometimes specific situations can also be anxiety provoking
  • apprehension about entering new situations
  • worrying about having to deal with a relationship that is problematic – family, friend, work situation
  • panic about giving a presentation
  • worrying about whether you have made the right decision
  • worrying about social acceptance and approval or about failure, criticism or rejection form others
  • fears about health and safety

The experience of anxiety can range from mild uneasiness and worry to severe panic. At a reasonable level anxiety can motivate us and enhance our performance, but if anxiety becomes too severe or chronic it can become debilitating.

Some common symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety typically involves an emotion component, a physiological component and a cognitive component

  • fear, nervousness, worry
  • withdrawing from, avoiding or enduring with fear situations that may cause anxiety
  • difficulty making decisions
  • being startled easily
  • urges to perform certain rituals to try and relieve anxiety
  • finding it hard to stop worrying
  • unwanted or intrusive thoughts
  • shortness of breath
  • racing heart
  • dry mouth, trembling
  • sleep difficulties
  • feeling overwhelmed, constantly tense or on edge
  • negative thoughts

These can have an affect on your behaviour, for example putting off things, procrastinating, avoiding people or situations, not sleeping or even drinking too much.

Symptoms may not go away by themselves.  If they are left untreated, they can start to make it hard to cope with daily life. Anxiety affects the person experiencing it, but it can also affect the people close to you. If you are uncertain about what is making you anxious it may be useful to seek counselling to gain a better understanding of your anxiety.