Anxiety is part of life and is something that we all experience from time to time. We might feel anxious before a job interview, get startled when we hear a loud noise or have butterflies in our stomach when we look out of windows at the top of tall buildings. Most feelings of anxiety are short-lived but sometimes they can go on for so long and become so intense that they interfere with our ability to cope or carry out our day to day lives.
Anxiety can become a problem in two ways. Firstly, when you become anxious in situations when there is no real threat , but to you it seems like there is. Secondly, when you experience very high anxiety in situations that most people find a bit stressful, like large social occasions. If you feel anxious a lot of the time and your anxiety is influencing what you do and don’t do, then you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety comes with many different symptoms. These symptoms can show up in physical sensations, emotions, the way we think and the way that we behave. It’s often hard to know if you have an anxiety disorder without seeing a professional. If you experience any of the following on a regular basis then it might be time to seek help:
Thoughts, images or memories that come into your mind that make you feel anxious and distressed. These thoughts might go round and round in your head even if you are not in a difficult or threatening situation. You may spend a lot of time imaging past, present and future scenarios, asking yourself ‘what if’ questions such as ‘what if something terrible happens’. Anxiety can also be caused by perfectionism, which leads us to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves and fear of disappointing others
When people experience anxiety they tend to feel very threatened, even if situations are not actually very threatening. We may overestimate the likelihood of the things we fear will actually happen. This might make us feel that we need to be constantly on the look out for things that might be harmful or distressing.
Anxiety and low mood often go together. This might be because we feel tired out from feeling anxious a lot of the time or because anxiety makes us feel less confident or less hopeful about the future.
Anxiety often shows up in the body. Common symptoms include breathing difficulties (becoming faster or shallower), an increased heart rate, sweating or butterflies in the stomach. Interestingly, we can experience similar physical sensations when we are feeling excited about something.
This is about what we do when we feel anxious. Often anxiety makes us want to avoid or run away from the situations that make us anxious. If we can’t avoid the situation then we may find ways to make us feel safer but sometimes these things we do can backfire and make our anxiety worse because they keep our attention focused on the things that we are afraid of.
There is no one cause for anxiety. Everyone has experienced anxiety at some time in their lives and this is not only normal but useful. We are designed to feel anxious because anxiety can help us to keep ourselves safe. Humans have developed a ‘fight or flight’ response so that our brains and bodies can quickly react to danger. For example, when we sense danger our heart beats faster in order to pump more oxygen round our bodies, in case we need to defend ourselves or run away. We also become very aware of things around us that might be dangerous so that we can react quickly. So this ‘fight or flight’ response has developed through human evolution to keep us safe, however many of the threatening situations that we may encounter today don’t require a physical response. For example, when we are about to go into a job interview it’s not helpful for us to have a racing heart or to have more oxygen in our bodies, it just makes us feel more tense. So although anxiety is useful because it makes us react to dangerous situations quickly, in modern life this primitive survival mechanism may actually make life more difficult.
When we feel stressed we develop anxiety because we over-estimate the chances of something bad happening and under-estimate our ability to cope. We may develop anxiety symptoms if we worry excessively about stresses like financial, employment or housing problems. We may also develop anxiety following a stressful life experience, such as losing a job or being a victim of crime.
A common reason people feel anxious is that they might be seeing situations, events or people as more threatening than they really are. Thoughts, feelings, physical symptoms and behaviour are closely linked to each other. We may develop vicious cycles of anxious thoughts, feelings and behavours that keep our anxiety going. The good news is that making positive changes in the way that we think, feel and/or behave can turn vicious cycles into virtuous cycles. Psychological therapies can help you to make these positive changes.
If you’ve been worrying excessively, have trouble relaxing or often feel like something really bad is going to happen, then thus may indicate that you have an anxiety disorder. Here are some signs that you may have developed an anxiety disorder:
Anxiety isn’t just one type of problem, there are many different types of anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are different from day-to-day worry. They are usually long-term and difficult to control. They can also have serious impact on your relationships, work and daily life. Anxiety disorders affect people of all ages, backgrounds and lifestyles; some of the most common forms are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The short answer is Yes!
There are many treatments for anxiety that have been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). These include medications and a range of talking therapies. Many people find that a combination of both can be helpful.
The most common psychological treatments for anxiety disorders are cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT). Psychological therapies teach you skills to manage your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These therapies can help you identify the reasons that you developed anxiety in the first place and what is keeping it going. They can help you to break negative cycles of thinking or acting and create more helpful ones.
Medications for anxiety disorders include antidepressants and other medications that can help take the edge off some of the acute symptoms of anxiety. All medications need a prescription from a medical doctor so if you are interested in taking them then you will need to make an appointment to see your GP.
Anxiety is very common and we all experience anxiety in certain situations. Sometimes anxiety can be helpful but if the symptoms become excessive and interfere with your day to day life then this may indicate an anxiety disorder. There are many effective treatments for anxiety, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. The best thing to do if you’re suffering from any symptoms of anxiety is to talk to a mental health professional.
We offer help to deal with a range of issues including:
If you need urgent help and are worried that you can’t keep yourself safe, City and Hackney has a 24-hour Crisis helpline on 0800 073 0006 or you can get help at your local Accident and Emergency department.