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What is anxiety? and when to seek help and how to find a therapist for anxiety​

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, fear or apprehension about what’s to come. Often our bodies respond to stress with anxiety and most people will feel anxious at some point in their life, such as before sitting an exam or going to a job interview. However, while stress may pass when the issue causing stress is overcome (for example meeting a deadline), anxiety is something that can persist whether or not its cause is clear.

If your feelings of anxiety are extreme, it is difficult to control your worries or your symptoms are interfering with your daily life over a long period, you may have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is the main symptom of several conditions, including phobias, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder.

Find a therapist specialising in anxiety here

Do I need help for my anxiety?

In the same way that it is better to seek help quickly for your physical health, waiting until you can no longer cope with your anxiety is not a good tactic for your mental health. The sooner you seek help, the more likely it is that you can manage your symptoms before they damage your quality of life, relationships, career or emotional well being.

Consider seeking help for your anxiety especially if:

  • Your anxiety symptoms have been going on for several weeks and seem to be getting worse over time.

  • You have started experiencing symptoms of anxiety when contemplating your own anxiety itself.

  • Your daily life is beginning to suffer because of your anxiety, such as affecting your relationships or not being able to enjoy the things you used to.

  • You sometimes feel completely overwhelmed by your anxiety and you are experiencing panic attacks.

  • It is also very important to seek help if your anxiety has turned into an anxiety disorder (see below for more information on anxiety disorders).


What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can feel different for different people and can include physical and psychological symptoms. You might feel that you have a racing heart and experience feelings of panic, fear and worry. Some of the common symptoms include:
A sense of dread or fear

  • Feeling like your thoughts and feelings are out of control

  • Increased heart rate

  • Rapid breathing

  • Restlessness

  • Obsessing about your anxiety

  • Panic or panic attacks, which include physical symptoms such as sweating, feeling very hot or cold, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations and a tight chest.

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Difficulty falling asleep

  • Increased muscle tension

  • Tingling in the hands and feet

  • Hyperventilation

  • Dizziness

  • A feeling of ‘butterflies’ in your stomach

  • Feeling sick

  • Tightness across the chest area

  • Hot flushes

  • Increased sweating

  • Dry mouth

  • Shaking

  • Believing that other people are looking at you and noticing your anxiety

  • Feeling as though things are speeding up/slowing down

  • Feeling removed or detached from your surroundings and people around you

  • Feeling alert to everything around you and frequently on edge.

What are anxiety disorders?

Ordinary anxiety, whilst unpleasant, is a feeling that comes and goes, but does not interfere with your everyday life. When suffering with an anxiety disorder, the physical and psychological symptoms of anxiety may be with you all of the time. An anxiety disorder may result in you stopping doing things that you enjoy. For example, it may prevent you from getting on a plane, crossing the road, or even leaving your home. If left untreated, your anxiety is likely to keep getting worse. Anxiety disorders are the most common form of emotional disorders and can affect anyone at any age. Statistically, women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

What is the difference between anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about many situations and issues and leaves you feeling unable to relax. People with GAD often feel anxious most days and may find that as soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another appears.

What are the types of anxiety disorders?

  • Panic disorder: experiencing panic attacks that arise at unexpected times and often reoccur.

  • Phobia: excessive or irrational fear about a specific object or situation, such as a fear of flying or a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia).

  • Social anxiety disorder: extreme anxiety about taking part in social situations and interactions, affecting your quality of life.

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder: managing recurring irrational and obsessive thoughts by performing specific, repeated behaviours.

  • Separation anxiety disorder: recurrent and excessive fear of being away from home or loved ones.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): persistent anxiety and feelings of stress following a traumatic experience.

What are the treatments for anxiety?

Treatment for anxiety generally falls into two categories: psychotherapy for anxiety and medication. Meeting with a therapist or psychologist for anxiety can help you learn tools to use and strategies to cope with anxiety when it occurs and gain a better understanding of its causes. Medications, including antidepressants and sedatives, are commonly used to treat anxiety. They work to balance brain chemistry and prevent episodes of anxiety.

Other ways of managing anxiety include:

  • Exercise: Physical activity can improve your mood, well being and stress levels by triggering certain brain chemicals to be released naturally. This can help to prevent anxiety and manage your symptoms.

  • Healthy eating: Foods high in sugar can cause you to experience an initial sugar ‘rush’ followed by a sudden dip in blood sugar levels, which can impact negatively on your emotional health. Caffeine and alcohol can also increase anxiety levels.

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness and meditation can have a number of positive effects, such as reducing stress, providing methods to relax and helping you to become aware of your thoughts and therefore break unhelpful patterns of thinking that might be affecting your anxiety. There are now a number of anxiety therapists who incorporate mindfulness into their therapeutic treatment.

  • Getting to know yourself: By making a note of when you feel anxious, what happens and any potential triggers, you can equip yourself with ways to deal with these triggers and to prepare for situations that may cause you anxiety in future.

Research has found that psychotherapy, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are effective for treating anxiety issues. For example, a cognitive behaviour therapist can help you to understand the link between your thought patterns and your anxiety, to find useful strategies to reduce your anxiety levels and to manage your symptoms more effectively.

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