Anxiety is often described as a feeling of fear or unease – and it’s something everyone experiences at times. Feeling anxious is a perfectly natural reaction to some situations.
Anxiety can help us to focus or take extra care when needed, but if it gets too much or goes on for a while, it can affect our daily life.
Luckily, there are ways to deal with anxiety that really work, and spotting the signs of anxiety is the first step.
Find out about common symptoms of anxiety, possible reasons for it and what to do when you’re anxious. Plus sign up for our anxiety-easing email programme to get expert advice on dealing with anxiety.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is usually a natural response to pressure, feeling afraid or threatened, which can show up in how we feel physically, mentally, and in how we behave.
It’s common to describe anxiety as a feeling of dread, fear or unease, which can range from mild to severe.
Anxiety can become a problem if we start worrying a lot about small stuff or relatively harmless situations.
It’s usually when our anxiety feels really intense or overwhelming that it starts to interfere with our daily life or affect our relationships.
Join our email programme to get expert advice and practical tips to help you deal with anxiety. It will also show you how to make these new steps part of your daily routine.
Signs or symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety can affect our mind, body and behaviour, for instance we might feel tearful, get stress headaches, or start avoiding things or people that trigger anxiety.
Common symptoms of anxiety include:
- feeling tired, restless or irritable
- feeling shaky or trembly, dizzy or sweating more
- being unable to concentrate or make decisions
- trouble sleeping
- worrying about the past or future, or thinking something bad will happen
- headaches, tummy aches or muscle pain
- dry mouth
- pins and needles
- noticing your heartbeat gets stronger, faster or irregular, or you get short of breath when you start feeling anxious
If you cannot tell if shortness of breath is from anxiety or if you are worried about any other symptoms, see a GP.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety is caused by many different situations and life experiences.
How anxiety affects us is very personal to us, and if you asked 100 people what it means to them, you'd probably get 100 different answers.
Sometimes there are no obvious triggers for it and it's difficult to know what causes anxiety, which can be upsetting or stressful in itself.
Everyone’s anxiety levels are different. Some people find more situations stressful and experience more challenges in life than others, and they get more anxious as a result.
However, possible causes of anxiety include:
- our upbringing
- our environment
- things that happen to us
- our temperament
Find out more about life's challenges that might cause anxiety and how to deal with them.
Tips on managing anxiety
Try building these self-care tips into your daily routine, as doing them regularly can make a big difference.
Shift your focus
Some people find mindfulness and meditation (including breathing exercises and relaxation) help to calm anxiety and reduce tension by focussing awareness on the present moment. Try these NHS-recommended relaxation exercises
Try self-help techniques
Our short videos and practical guides to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you deal with worries, anxiety and unhelpful thoughts by working through problems in new ways and helping you build resilience. Try our self-help CBT techniques
Understand your anxiety
Keeping a diary of what you are doing and how you feel at different times may help you understand why you’re anxious and identify ways to manage or get rid of anxiety.
Make time for worries
If anxiety or worry is taking over your day, try setting a daily "worry time" to go through your concerns. Doing this at a set time every day can help you to focus on other things. Check out our video on tackling your worries
Face your fears gradually
Avoiding situations or relying on habits we think will keep us safe might actually make our anxiety worse. Slowly facing up to a situation might help, and eventually it will feel OK.
Look at the bigger picture
If we’re feeling anxious about something, we might get stuck on the details and stop seeing things clearly. Thinking about your problem or situation from someone else's view can make it easier to come up with a plan for tackling it. What advice would you give to a friend?
Find what works for you
Video: Expert advice on coping with anxiety
Professor Paul Salkovskis, consultant clinical psychologist, says: "If you're feeling anxious, there's a good chance you're thinking things are more dangerous than they really are."
More help and support for anxiety
Charities, helplines and communities
These organisations offer help and support:
Books on mental health and wellbeing
The books, which should be available for free from your local library, cover topics including meditation, mindfulness and other mental health topics.
Helping someone else
Get tips and advice on helping others struggling with their mental health.
If you cannot wait to see a doctor and feel unable to cope or keep yourself safe, it's important to get support.