Anxiety, sometimes described as a feeling of nervousness, is the result of being under stress.
Introduction to anxiety
Anxiety is a feeling that many of us will have experienced at one time or another. It is a normal biological reaction to stress.
Anxiety is usually thought of as being unpleasant. Some people might describe it as being nervous. Anxiety can affect us in different ways and at different times, depending on how we are feeling and what we are doing.
As anxiety comes about as a result of stress, the two subjects are often discussed together and there is a great deal of overlap in the symptoms, treatment and causes of anxiety and stress.
Feelings of anxiety can be temporary, short-lived and mild, with a clear identifiable cause. For instance, it is normal to feel anxious about a forthcoming exam, and the worry that you might fail should spur you to work harder. So anxiety or worry can be a good thing.
Some people however experience more anxiety than others. They worry more and seem to feel nervous or stressed more often, or even all the time. Feelings of anxiety can come about because the stresses around have increased or for various reasons, people may feel less able to cope with stress.
Feelings of anxiety can be normal
All of us will have experienced anxiety as part of our normal life. From time to time, we come across stressful situations such as:
- Sitting an exam or driving test
- Going for a job interview
- Being late for an important appointment
It is normal to feel a bit nervous or anxious in these situations – they are a normal part of life. However, for some, these ‘normal’ events can lead to severe symptoms of anxiety or even panic or anxiety attacks.
Why do we become anxious?
When the body comes under stress, chemicals such as adrenaline are produced and released into the bloodstream. This normal reaction stems from our ‘caveman’ days and makes our heart beat faster. Our nerves become more alert, preparing our body to fight or flee from the danger facing us. This reaction is called the ‘fight or flight’ response.
Then, dangers were man-eating animals. Today, we get stressed because of traffic jams, deadlines at work or money worries. Nevertheless, our body’s response to stress has remained the same. Our heart pounds away and we become jumpy because of the stress chemicals released into the body.
Stress can be positive and negative. An example of positive stress is wondering whether you have won anything in the weekly lottery draw. However, we don’t usually say we are anxious in these situations – we describe it as being excited. So, in a way, positive stress makes us excited, negative stress makes us anxious.
Follow the link for more detailed information on the causes of anxiety.
Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety can give rise to a wide range of symptoms. These can be grouped into physical symptoms, and non-physical (psychological) symptoms.
Sudden (or acute) stresses lead to symptoms of anxiety such as:
- Feeling our heart pounding or racing (palpitations)
- Feeling tense in our body and muscles (headaches, neck & shoulder pain)
- Increased rate of breathing (short and sharp breathing) or hyperventilation
- Difficulty breathing
- Feeling nauseous, sick or faint
When stress becomes long-standing, physical symptoms of anxiety fade away or become less prominent. However, these are replaced by a variety of psychological symptoms of anxiety, including:
- Negative thoughts
- Feeling that you may become seriously ill
- Feelings of low mood or depression
- Thinking that you are losing control
- Loss of confidence
- Difficulty sleeping
Follow the link for more detailed information on anxiety symptoms.
Treatment of anxiety
Treatments available for anxiety overlap considerably with those used to treat stress. The main forms of treatment include:
- Relaxation techniques
- Counselling / support groups
- Herbal remedies and other complementary medicines such as the herb Valerian
- Stress relieving medication from your doctor
The best way to treat anxiety is to learn how to cope with stress. However, some people find that they need help from medication and in these circumstances, may wish to try herbal remedies before prescription medicines from the doctor, because of the potential for side effects when using conventional drugs.
Follow the link for more detailed information on anxiety treatment.
Helping yourself beat anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety, one of the first things you can do is to find ways to help yourself. No matter what sort of treatment you are using or thinking of using, how well you cope depends, ultimately, on your attitude, behaviour and habits.
There are a number of ways you can help yourself overcome anxiety:
- When under pressure, find ways to relieve stress quickly. Laughter, deep breathing and other techniques can help you relax even in the most stressful of situations
- Changes in your diet and lifestyle can help reduce anxiety. Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume. Use a coffee substitute or herbal teas.
- Take control of the situation by being more organised and assertive.
Follow the link to our page for more information on anxiety self-help.
When to see a doctor
Most people will be able to cope well with the stresses around them, managing anxiety using some of the simple self-help techniques you can read about in these pages, herbal remedies and a good helping of common sense.
However, others may suffer severe and / or prolonged symptoms. You should see your doctor if you:
- Experience symptoms of anxiety most days and can’t remember the last time you were able to relax
- Have trouble sleeping and this makes you feel tired all the time
- Suffer from palpitations all through the day
- Experience severe panic or anxiety attacks
- Feel depressed or suicidal