It's a debilitating condition that goes much further than a few pre-date jitters, or job interview nerves. Anxiety is a very real, mental health issue - and it shouldn't be confused with everyday niggles and worries.
For people suffering from anxiety - which, according to a report referenced by Anxiety UK, is 1 in 6 of adults in the UK alone (opens in new tab) - something as simple as popping to a friends house for a dinner party can pose a serious problem. But what is anxiety?
According to mental health charity Mind, anxiety incorporates the physical and emotion sensations we experience when we're fearful, nervous or worried. Of course, it's normal to see these emotions from time to time, and experience side-effects such as nausea or sweating when we do. But severe anxiety becomes a mental health problem when you're unable to move past strong and intense feelings of anxiety, even after an anxious event such as an exam or a hospital appointment has passed.
Types of anxiety
There's no one size fits all when it comes to the different types of anxiety, meaning generally most people's symptoms fit it one of around five anxiety disorders.
The first is generalised anxiety disorder, which is categorised by a general, pervading feeling of anxiety. Panic disorder can also occur in some people, which is where people experience panic attacks in a seemingly random way, with no obvious, similar trigger.
The following three are obsessive compulsive order, post-traumatic stress disorder, and phobias. OCD is recognised as someone who has obsessions or compulsions linked to their anxiety, such as things they must do every time they leave a house, for example. People with phobias generally feel intense anxiety around a certain thing, while those with PTSD feel immense anxiety after witnessing or experiencing something incredibly traumatic, such as a war zone.
Symptoms can include a huge range of things, from physical feelings to actual thoughts. According to Mind (opens in new tab), you may experience:
- nausea (feeling sick)
- tense muscles and headache
- pins and needles
- feeling dizzy
- sweating or hot flushes
- a fast,thumping or irregular heart beat
- difficulty sleeping
- needing the toilet more frequently, or less frequently
- having a constant, overwhelming sense of dread, or fearing the worst
- an uneasy stomach
- feeling your mind is overloaded
- a feeling of restlessness
- feeling numb
Do I have anxiety?
Given that anxiety is a normal emotion and not categorised as a mental illness if it isn't severe, it's difficult to officially diagnose an anxiety disorder in someone. But a few ways to tell are if you find yourself worrying constantly about things that might not ever happen on a constant basis, or if you're unable to function or live properly due to anxious thoughts. Similarly, another way to know is if you experience physical, severe reactions to your anxious feelings, such as a panic attack, which might occur on a regular basis.
Health anxiety - what is it?
In a world where news stories about diseases such as cancer and dementia fall into our paths almost every day, it's normal to fear for your health from time to time.
Health anxiety falls into the OCD spectrum of anxiety disorders, and occurs when people have a preoccupation that they have, or soon will have, some kind of physical illness. People with health anxiety often even disbelieve their doctor or familly and friends when they are reassured, and constantly seek out symptoms they believe are indicative of a serious disease.
Health anxiety can be eased though, with one of many treatments that helps a range of anxieties - which you can find below.
Panic attacks - what is a panic attack?
When we hear people talk about anxiety, it's most regularly followed by the idea that they might experience panic attacks.
But what exactly are they? For most people, a panic attack involves a sudden and intense surge of anxiety, which can result in physical symptoms such as overwhelming dizziness and nausea. Some sufferers explain panic attacks as feeling as though they're going to die, they can be that extreme. Panic attacks can last anywhere from two minutes to 20 minutes, although the most difficult symptoms often appear first.
How to stop a panic attack
Sufferers of anxiety all develop different approaches to dealing with panic attacks, but for a lot of people, handling them often requires proper treatment and therapies from a doctor...
Dealing with anxiety, and how to deal with anxiety
Dealing with anxiety is as individual as anxiety itself, and there are lots of different measures you can take if you find you're suffering. So what are they?
There are a few medications available if you're dealing with anxiety, but one of the main ones is anti-depressants. Also available are beta-blockers, tranquilisers, and pregabalin, which is an anticonvulsant.
While antidepressants are usually the best options for anxiety in general, beta blockers and pregabalin can help with specific phobias. Pregabalin works to stop your brain from releasing the actual chemicals that leave you feeling anxious, while can decrease the rate of your heart, which can be particularly effective for panic attacks. But generally, antidepressants are the very first port of call and the best option in the beginning.
Alternatively, lots of people opt for a more holistic approach to treating their anxiety. Counselling or therapy is usually a great option, and can be useful to help people understand why they feel such anxiety. Cognitive behavioural therapy is often prescribed for anxiety, and is a course of therapy that aims to help you understand why you feel a certain way, and how to change it. And it works - in a 2015 study, (opens in new tab) it was found that all participants who suffer from anxiety or depression saw an improvement after undergoing CBT.
Many sufferers take to self-help methods in order to get through periods of serious anxiety. For some, these could be as simple as watching your favourite TV show in an effort to calm down and take your mind off things, while others choose quiet time, such as a walk or a run to exercise and iron our negative thoughts. In fact, many medical studies have found that even just a 10-minute walk can elevate feelings of negativity. (opens in new tab)
Whilst these are by no means a cure for the disorder - they can help to ease symptoms, but it's important to find what works for you.
For more advice and information on anxiety and how to deal with it, visit mental health charity Mind, here. (opens in new tab)
Remember, if you're feeling like you need help, you are not alone. Reach out to friends and family, or book an appointment with your doctor. They can advise on treatments that really can help you feel better, and help ease the symptoms of anxiety once and for all.
Amy Hunt is an experienced digital journalist specialising in homes, interiors and hobbies. She began her career working as the features assistant at woman&home magazine, before moving over to the digital side of the brand where she eventually became the Lifestyle Editor up until January 2022. Amy won the Digital Journalist of the Year award at the AOP Awards in 2019 for her work on womanandhome.com.
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