What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural human response to stress. We react to stress both physiologically and psychologically. When we feel anxious we can experience a sense of uneasiness, nervousness, worry and fear. Our heart might quicken, our muscles might tense up, while our sweat glands go into overdrive. After a while a feeling of weakness and lethargy sets in and everything may begin to feel impossible. 

Anxiety can come and go, or it might cling on steadfastly. It can be generalised and mild or it can be debilitating and lead onto depression and mental health issues. Anxiety experienced over the long term can attack your body, giving rise to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and coronary events. Anxiety is something too many of us live with and don’t do much about. The first thing to do of course is see a doctor to get a check-up. Your doctor will help to diagnose what kind of anxiety you are experiencing – generalised anxiety (GAD) which is the most common form, social anxiety, phobias, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once diagnosed, your doctor can recommend the best course of treatment and self help, setting out your choices. (See anxiety glossary)

Common responses to stress include the following range of physical and emotional reactions. Some of the symptoms jump out loud and clear, while others are more subtle and can easily be confused with other conditions.

  • Mood swings and strange thoughts

  • Irritability

  • Sleep problems

  • Poor concentration

  • Breathlessness

  • Tightness in chest

  • Heart palpitations

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Sweating

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle aches

  • Comfort or under eating

  • Upset stomach

Anxiety weigh-in

  • Most people experience stress at times

  • Financial worries followed by work and career are the biggest sources of stress

  • Lots of stress can trigger anxiety – a sustained mental health disorder

  • Anxiety affects a third of people sometime in their lives

  • During the recent Covid-19 pandemic, 19 million adults in Great Britain reported high levels of anxiety. The pandemic has had a profoundly detrimental impact on people's mental health

  • North America has the highest prevalence of anxiety. Before the pandemic, over 40 million adults in the USA had an anxiety disorder

  • Women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety

  • Anxiety is 2 to 3 times more prevalent in inactive people

  • Anxiety is associated with inflammation, higher blood pressure, cardiovascular risk and premature mortality. In short, anxiety has a profoundly negative affect on people’s wellbeing