What is anxiety?
- Anxiety is feeling severe worry or tension.
- If you’re struggling with anxious thoughts and want to talk to someone you can contact the CALM helpline here.
Everyone feels nervous at some point – whether it’s because of a job interview, a difficult conversation or taking a driving test. Anxiety is a problem when it begins to take over your life.
Anxiety can be a symptom of other mental health conditions, or on its own (known as Generalised Anxiety Disorder). If you feel anxious all of the time or for no obvious reason, speak to someone about how you’re feeling.
There are many effective ways to deal with anxiety, including lifestyle choices such as exercise, as well as psychological and medical treatments.
How does anxiety feel?
Anxiety feels different to everyone who experiences it and has a combination of physical and mental symptoms that can range from mild to severe. You may experience some of the following:
- Feeling panicky or on edge, often or for long periods of time
- Difficulty sleeping because of worries or recurrent thoughts
- Panic attacks or intense periods of fear and discomfort
- A compulsion to carry out certain rituals to keep things from going wrong
- Physical symptoms like sweaty palms, dry mouth, tense muscles
- Increased heart rate and/or shallower breathing
- Avoiding certain situations or things in everyday life because of nervousness and worries
Why do people get anxious/anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural human feeling that can help us analyse what’s happening in our lives, make important decisions, and avoid danger. It’s normal to feel nervous before big life events and in any unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation. Anxiety becomes an issue when it begins to take over your life and stops you doing everyday things.
There’s no single reason for someone to experience anxiety, and there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you if you do. Anxiety is a result of a combination of different things, including your genes, your upbringing, your personal circumstances and psychological factors. Anxiety can be accompanied by other mental health conditions like depression, phobias, compulsive behaviour Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
If that all sounds overwhelming, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. According to the World Health Organisation, over 250 million people are thought to live with anxiety related conditions – and help is available.
No matter your interests or background, there’s loads of things to help you deal with anxiety, as well as support groups and organisations like AnxietyUK dedicated to helping people who are struggling. From exercise and nutrition to talking therapies and medication, speaking to someone about your worries can help you to find ways to cope and move forward. Talking to the CALM helpline is a good place to start. You can do that here.
Where can I find help?
- Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline workers are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
- Outside of these hours, calls the Samaritans on 116 123.
- Contact your GP for an appointment.
- You can refer yourself to NHS Psychological Therapies here.
Dealing with anxiety
Some of this stuff might sound small or even silly, but it’s worth a try, right? There’s no one solution for everyone, find what works for you.
- Breathe: Yes, you read that right. If you’re feeling anxious, your breathing is probably shallower than normal. Take a few breaths, trying to breathe a little more deeply each time. Or you might use something like the 4,5,6 breathing technique to find some space and give yourself a chance to calm down. It’s got nothing to do with 90s pop group Steps, we promise. It’s all about breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 5 seconds, and then, you guessed it, exhaling for 6 seconds. It may feel a little forced the first few times you try, but it’s worth staying with it.
- Focus on the here and now (AKA get out of your head): Pause a moment. What can you see? Hear? Smell? Focus on this moment and your immediate surroundings. Give yourself a moment to feel a bit more you.
- Tense your muscles: You’re probably thinking you already are, but consciously tensing your muscles and then releasing them can help us to feel a little more in control. Tense each muscle separately. You don’t even have to know what they’re called. Tense, then release, tense then release from head to toe.
- What would you say to a mate? Imagine your best mate was feeling how you’re feeling now. What would you say to them? Yup, it’s pretty certain you’d be understanding, supportive and kind. So don’t be too hard on yourself. Show yourself the same care you might show someone else.
Anxiety about a situation
- What would you say to a mate? Yup, similar trick as above. If you were looking down on a mate, how would you view their situation. How about if you were a stranger? What would they think? Thinking about different perspectives can help you to see your situation more clearly.
- Distraction: We often think of distractions as a bad thing, but sometimes they’re what we need to give ourselves a break. Try not to sink into your feelings of anxiousness, do something different, get some fresh air, jump up and down on the spot. Giving your brain a break might be what you need.
- Time to put your lucky pants on No, seriously. If you’re feeling anxious about a job interview, exam, or any situation, taking something along that gives you comfort is a great way to ground yourself and give you a boost when you need it.
Talking about anxiety
It can be difficult to talk about anxiety with your friends, family or a medical professional. Here’s some ways you can start a conversation around how you’re feeling:
“I need to talk to you about how I’m feeling. Things are tough at the moment and I’m worrying/feeling nervous a lot of the time. I think I might have anxiety”
“I need to talk – I’ve been struggling with [ ] and I’ve been feeling very anxious.”
“You might have noticed i’ve not been around so much lately. I’ve been finding things difficult, and think I might be experiencing anxiety.”
You're not alone
I was struggling to cope with my anxiety and it led to depression. It took at least 12 months for me to realise and ask for help from my GP. It affected my work, I couldn't use the phone, I withdrew from social events. Medication and CBT training helped me understand what was going on and challenge my thoughts.
I have learnt that no one can deal with everything on their own and just talking and letting things out makes a massive difference