It's normal to feel more alert, to notice the heart beating faster or breathing getting quicker, when faced with something new or challenging. A little bit of anxiety is fine – even helpful. However, when the feeling is overwhelming or causes avoidance, it becomes problematic. Anxiety is a common mental health problem in the UK.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a diagnosis for people with anxiety symptoms that affect their daily life, such as work or social life.
People with anxiety might experience physical symptoms, such as:
They might also feel ‘on edge’, experience poor concentration or irritability, and carry a sense of dread with no real reason. Sometimes people avoid work or stop going out to cope with these symptoms.
Panic attacks are a common symptom of GAD. They are very difficult and involve overwhelming ‘attacks’ of physical and psychological symptoms, and after having one a person might find that they are worried about having another which can affect their confidence to go out, work or enjoy everyday life.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common anxiety disorder. People with OCD experience a cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviours that is stressful and overwhelming.
Panic disorder is an anxiety diagnosis for people experiencing regular panic attacks or anxiety attacks, particularly when there appears to be no reason to panic.
Panic attacks can create a racing heartbeat, make a person feel faint, dizzy or sick, and can cause shortness of breath or chest pain. They may feel like a heart attack, although panic attacks can’t cause heart attacks and they are not fatal.
These are irrational and subjective fears that stops you living freely is known as a phobia. When a person can’t go about their everyday life because of these fears, or fear of panic attacks, they should seek help to manage their anxiety.
People can recover from trauma but some experiences, for reasons we don’t understand, are harder to recover from then others. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that follows trauma.
Complex PTSD is another anxiety disorder that is similar to PTSD. The difference is that alongside PTSD symptoms, people might also experience hopelessness and poor self-esteem, struggle to regulate their emotions, feel dissociated, or face suicidal thoughts. People might have cPTSD if they have been subjected to prolonged or multiple traumas.
It’s common to feel nervous before meeting new people or people you don’t know well. But when anxiety or fear of anxiety stops people seeing friends or going to important events, they may find that they need more support in order to prevent isolation.
If worries or physical symptoms of anxiety are consistent for six months, and affect your ability to work or go about your normal life, your GP may well give you a diagnosis of an anxiety disorders.
Anxiety is a normal emotion, and feeling nervous, anxious, panicky or frightened, particularly when we face challenges. But overwhelming experiences of anxiety such as panic attacks and compulsions make it hard to live normally and can prevent people experiencing or enjoying life.
For example, anxiety is common when we challenge ourselves at work – for example, by presenting work to groups or attending an interview for a job we would like to be considered for. People with anxiety also challenge themselves at work, and might benefit from treatment for anxiety if they are not already getting it.
Doctors encourage anyone with symptoms that last six months or more to seek treatment, but some people live with symptoms for longer than this. Clinical anxiety can be a lifelong diagnosis, but treatment for anxiety can have immediate relief from symptoms. Every case is different.
In the UK, around 5% of the population has generalised anxiety. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed as men.
The Office for National Statistics reported that prevalence of ‘high anxiety’ rose during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Talking about anxiety can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy helps explore experiences, feelings and memories that relate to anxious periods of life.
In particular, behavioural therapy (such as exposure therapy and CBT) can both offer people new ways to cope with anxiety and the things that might seem to ‘provoke’ it.
Anxiety and anxiety symptoms respond well to medication where a doctor feels a patient would benefit from it.
In 1964, James Black synthesized the first beta blockers, which were first used to manage angina. But it wasn’t until 1976 when a paper came out in The Lancet that they were first publicly acknowledged as a treatment for anxiety symptoms.
David Adam developed an anxiety disorder, OCD, at university seemingly out of nowhere.
Sophie Hinch talks to Emma Gannon about her experience of living with anxiety, and her success as an influencer.
NHS Choices provides information about the signs, symptoms and treatment for depression.
Anxiety UK provides advice and advocacy for people with an anxiety disorder diagnosis.
For people in distress or despair, especially for people experiencing suicidal thoughts, Samaritans is open 24 hours a day by phone (116 123) and email (email@example.com).