Anxiety is an unpleasant emotional state that ranges from mild unease to intense fear. Anxiety is a normal response to stressful situations and prepares the mind and body to respond effectively. However, anxiety that occurs without reason may be a symptom of an anxiety disorder or another psychological disorder such as depression.
A variety of physical symptoms are associated with anxiety. The most common include palpitations (a more forceful or faster heartbeat), chest pains, a feeling of tightness in the chest, and a tendency to overbreathe (hyperventilate) Muscle tension leads to headaches and back pains. Gastrointestinal symptoms of anxiety include dry mouth (see mouth, dry), bloating, diarrhoea, nausea, and difficulty in swallowing. Other symptoms include lightheadedness, sweating, pallor, blushing, and a frequent need to urinate or defaecate. People with anxiety may have a constant feeling that something bad is going to happen. They may fear illness or worry about the health and safety of family and friends. Fear of losing control is also common. Anxiety often leads to increasing dependence on others, irritability, a sense of fatigue, and frustration. Inability to relax may lead to difficulty in sleeping.
People suffering from anxiety may be helped by counselling or psychotherapy. If there is an underlying disorder, such as depression, treatment with antidepressant drugs can help. Anti-anxiety drugs are used for short-term control of symptoms but are avoided for long-term treatment because they are addictive.
A group of mental illnesses, including several specific syndromes, in which symptoms of anxiety are the principal feature. Anxiety disorders are common and mainly affect young adults.
In generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), the affected individual suffers from persistent tension and apprehension that has no specific focus or cause, together with physical or psychological symptoms that disrupt normal activity. Panic disorder is characterized by sudden and recurrent attacks of extreme, unreasonable fear and anxiety. Phobias are irrational fears, such as the fear of open spaces or of spiders, that lead to avoidance of certain situations or objects. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a form of anxiety that develops following a stressful or traumatic event and obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition in which a person’s obsessions and fears lead them to carry out repetitive, ritualized acts.
For more about anxiety disorders please read the articles here:
Counselling, psychotherapy, and group or individual cognitive–behavioural therapy are used to treat anxiety disorders. Antidepressant drugs (such as citalopram) are often used, and antianxiety drugs (especially benzodiazepine drugs such as diazepam and alprazolam) may be used for short-term treatment but are addictive.
Articles about anxiety on this site:
- Anxiety - an introduction
- When anxiety gets out of control
- When does anxiety become a problem
- Origins of anxiety
- Treat anxiety - summary of methods
- Prescription medication for anxiety
- Herbs for anxiety
- Cognitive therapy
- How to stop worrying
- Treat anxiety with relaxation
- Treat anxiety and insomnia with mental imagery
- Treat anxiety by becoming a positive realist
- Using distraction to treat anxiety
- Ways to relax
- Mindfulness - an introduction
- Types of psychological therapies
Introduction - taking back control
It is only human to feel anxious ... some of the time. After all, it is part of our survival kit - none of us would live long if anxiety didn't stop us from taking foolhardy risks. But too much anxiety can be problematic, as you are no doubt well aware, if you have chosen to browse to this article.
When it gets out of control, anxiety can quickly become as disabling as any chronic physical illness. Perhaps you have experienced overwhelming, unrealistic fears or worry, panic attacks, phobias, obsessive-compulsive behaviours or post-traumatic stress reactions that have stopped you from living your life as you would like to. All are examples of anxiety running riot, mentally and emotionally crippling us in the process, and a great many suffer from them.
If this is how it is for you, or someone you care about, or your days are blighted by continual low-grade anxiety, it can feel as if life will never be normal again - as if something alien is in control.
But anxiety is not all-powerful and inexplicable. It can be managed very easily, when you know how. And that is the point of the articles in this section on anxiety.
Whatever your own level or cause of anxiety, there are ways to overcome it.
Having worked successfully for over 25 years with countless people, young and old, suffering from varying degrees and types of anxiety, we know from first-hand experience what a difference the information and techniques that you are about to read about make to people's lives.
Anxiety is made up of three elements: the physical sensations you experience, the emotions you have while experiencing them and the thoughts that go through your mind at the time. These articles will help you master them all. And, if it is a loved one, friend or colleague who suffers anxiety, it can also help you to help them. Very often, when we come to understand something, the fear is taken out of it.
So, in Part 1, 'Understanding anxiety', we explain exactly what is going on in our bodies when anxiety overwhelms us, and why it happens. This should give you the confidence to go on and tackle the thoughts and feelings that exacerbate anxiety's effects.
We show you exactly how to do this in Part 2, 'Overcoming anxiety', with practical ways to manage your thoughts and feelings to change your experience for the better.
Many of the steps you can take to help yourself are applicable, whatever form your anxiety takes. However, we also look at and explain individual anxiety disorders and give specific advice on each. For example, for certain often very distressing types of anxiety, there is a safe, swift treatment available that can neutralise the emotionally arousing images that produce seemingly irrational fears - this then frees you to react more appropriately to non-threatening objects and events.
We explain this in detail, along with other examples of effective counselling for anxiety, in Part 3, 'Seeking professional help'.
As we have mentioned, anxiety is a natural survival mechanism. But if it gets out of control, it means something isn't working properly in our lives. This could be because one or more of our essential needs aren't being met well, or in balance, or because the innate resources which were designed to help us meet our needs (such as our imagination) aren't functioning as they should, for any of a variety of reasons. As you will discover, identifying and addressing missing needs and learning to make the best use of our resources - our natural guidance system - are at the heart of learning to manage and treat anxiety effectively.
But this doesn't mean endlessly poking around in the past, looking for hidden causes or complicated explanations: it simply means mastering effective ways to ensure yourself a better future. Taking some time to read and absorb the information and skills presented here on this website will serve you well for the rest of your life.
Part 1 - about anxiety
Anxiety can take many forms. Maybe, when you wake in the morning and open your eyes, a vague, unidentifiable feeling of fear or anxiety envelops you. You are aware of your heart beating quickly, or even banging in your chest.
Or perhaps you feel just a fluttering sensation. You may have to concentrate to breathe. You scan the room, looking for the source, but know it isn't there. The familiar sense of foreboding grows. You get out of bed and the anxiety gets out with you.
Perhaps it takes the form of a churning in your stomach; or a tingling in every limb; or a suffocating fear wrapped around your throat. You tell yourself there is nothing to worry about and might even have found ways to push the feeling away, to keep it at bay for a while, as you get on with your day. But inside you still lurks the dreadful feeling that the fear will come back again, suddenly, out of the blue, catching you unawares.
Or perhaps it comes right along with you, that unidentifiable sense of impending disaster. Your limbs are restless; your mouth is dry; your mind is racing with thoughts that you can't even catch - they slip in and out of mind so fast. Thinking clearly or concentrating on your work or daily tasks is almost impossible. And, worst of all, you have no idea why this is happening.
Or maybe your anxiety is less intrusive than that. You look perfectly normal, behave perfectly normally, get on with your life apparently normally. And yet you don't feel fulfilled or truly happy or fully in the heart of things. A lot of the time you feel panicky or nervous. You can't relax or settle down to things. "What if ?" and "shouldn't I ?" questions run through your mind most of the time (although you might not be aware of this yet), along with concerns about what others think of you, whether what you do is good enough, and is it worth bothering anyway, considering the state of the world?
Or perhaps sometimes your mind just goes a complete blank. It might be that you are so convinced that you must do things perfectly that you often fail to complete them, or even start them, at all. The disabling anxiety is almost always there, on your shoulder, weighing you down. At night, it stops you getting off to sleep and, if you wake in the early hours, it kicks in at once, preventing you from dropping back to sleep again quickly. Sometimes, it may all be too much and you find yourself panicking. Or else you might be going about your normal business when, suddenly, for no reason you can fathom, your heart starts to pound; you are sweating and shaking; struggling to take in enough breath, you feel that you are choking; your stomach drops to the ground and you have the terrible feeling that you are going to lose control of your bladder and your bowels. You may feel dizzy and faint and as if you are outside of yourself. It feels as if you are going to die. All you know is that you have got to get out of wherever you are fast.
The doctor has told you that nothing is physically wrong with you. But that doesn't help. It is just as terrifying the next time it happens, and the next time, and the more hopeless and helpless and fearful you come to feeL Perhaps you know why it happened the first time: maybe you started feeling nauseated and clammy and panicky on a bus because you had what turned out to be a stomach bug (although you didn't know it at the time). Yet, seemingly inexplicably, the panic now happens every time you get on a bus, even though you know that you are perfectly well and try your hardest to stop it.
Maybe there are other times, too, when you know that you are likely to feel overwhelmingly panicked - in crowded shops or enclosed cinemas or at the sight of a dog or a bird or even broken glass. It doesn't make sense, even to you, that you should experience such terror in such circumstances, but that doesn't stop it happening.
Gradually, you start to avoid places where there might be crowds or birds or whatever you fear, and your life shrinks further and further. You stop doing many of the things you used to enjoy. Perhaps you are even afraid to leave the house. Or maybe you have no idea at all what triggers the distress, and that makes you feel even more out of control. It might be that a sudden, terrible thought starts it all off, an overwhelming fear that a loved one will die or that you might inadvertently, or even intentionally, do harm to another person or that you will be contaminated by germs.
Although you spend much of the day trying to force the unwanted thoughts out of your mind, the anxiety still mounts. Perhaps you have devised ritual activities of some kind which are intended to counter the power of such thoughts: if you carry them out religiously, the event you fear won't happen and the anxiety will stop. But it never works. The thought and the anxiety come back, and so the ritual must be repeated and repeated and repeated, taking over more and more of your day.
Perhaps you are good at keeping this burden a secret; or perhaps your family and friends and colleagues have started to notice that something is amiss ... It could be that your anxiety started after being involved in or seeing - or even just being told about - a horrific life-threatening event. Distressing images and thoughts connected with the event keep flooding into mind.
You might even feel as if you are continually reliving the event or you wake from nightmares that seem connected with it. You don't feel like yourself anymore; instead, you are always on the alert, fearfully watching, never relaxed, distant with people you love. You can't properly engage with life any longer, and often feel angry and irritable.
Maybe you have developed a 'nervous stomach', suffer a lot of headaches, or have found that a condition you already have, such as psoriasis or eczema, worsens. Perhaps you fidget a lot, or pull your hair or bite the inside of your lips.
There are very many different ways that severe anxiety can affect people, but there is one that is common to all. Like a tyrant, it has come to rule your life. But that tyranny is now about to end, because these articles will help put you back in charge.
You have all the tools you need, within yourself, to take back control. Instead of anxiety working against you, crippling and choking you, it can be tamed to work for you, just as it was always meant to. The first important thing to remember is this. The internal mechanism that drives your anxiety was serving you well just as it was always meant to." when it first went on full alert, whatever the original cause (and it really doesn't matter if you have forgotten what that was). It was doing its job - trying to keep you safe.
But it is still in overdrive, even though the job has been done, and so is now doing more harm than good - just as it would do more harm than good to continue taking antibiotics for life for a throat infection that would have cleared up after one course.
Why your anxiety mechanism is in overdrive and how you can bring it down to normal, effective levels are what you will learn from these articles. We can never eliminate fluctuating anxiety levels and wouldn't want to, as they have a job to do. But we do need to learn to manage them, so that anxiety can function in the way it is intended - to our benefit.
Continued in these articles:
Part 1 continued
- Anxiety and stress
- Anxiety is usually what you make it
- The powerful emotional brain
- Black-and-white thinking
- The three pertinent Ps
- Anxiety is usually a misuse of the imagination
- How poor sleep can turn worry into depression
- Post traumatic stress reactions
- Panic attacks
- Some other common phobias
- Social phobias
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviour
- Drugs are not the answer to anxiety
Part 2 - How to treat anxiety
- Overcoming anxiety
- Get a good night's sleep
- Find an enjoyable way to unwind
- Do an emotional needs audit on yourself
- Set specific goals for yourself
- Think straight
- Take a different perspective
- Nothing is as certain as change
- Have a good laugh
- Remind yourself of what you've got going for you
- Uncouple unhelpful pattern matches
- Rate how you are feeling
- Separate yourself from your anxiety
- Use the positive power of your imagination
- Try to live more healthily
- Watch for warning signs of anxiety
- Coping with panic attacks, agoraphobia and social phobias - special advice
- How to reduce the risk of panic attacks
- Obsessive compulsive behaviour - psychological strategies
Part 3 - Seeking professional help
More articles to follow soon