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What is anxiety?

Anxiety is when you feel worried, nervous, apprehensive or uneasy, and different people cope with it in different ways.

It’s completely normal to feel anxious sometimes. However, too much anxiety can start to have a negative impact on you. This is when you should seek help from a doctor.

Anxiety symptoms

Anxiety can have both psychological and physical symptoms. We’ve looked at them both below.

Psychological symptoms of anxiety

  • Feeling worried, nervous, apprehensive or uneasy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Bad mood
  • A sense of dread, panic or danger
  • Tiredness because of difficulty sleeping
  • Being more alert than normal
  • Feeling tearful or upset

Physical symptoms of anxiety

Before or during an anxiety attack, you may notice:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Low sex drive
  • Insomnia
  • Trembling or shakingspa
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain, a tight throat or trouble breathing
  • Stomach or digestive problems, such as your stomach churning
  • Nausea

Can anxiety be a symptom of something else?

Yes, your anxiety may be a symptom of another condition.

By speaking to one of our caring doctors, you can work together to figure out whether your anxiety is caused by a health condition, or by something else. They can then recommend the right course of treatment for you.

Anxiety disorders

There are many anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, separation anxiety and phobias. We’ve looked at some of the most common ones below.

  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) - you have regular worries about things in your day-to-day life. If you have lots of anxiety symptoms, you may be diagnosed with GAD.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) - you are obsessive and have compulsions about your body and physical appearance.
  • Panic disorder - the fear of having a panic attack can trigger an attack, without any clear cause.
  • Phobias - this is an fear of a particular situation or object, for example, agoraphobia is a fear of being in a situation where you can’t escape or get help, if you’re anxious about being in public, you may have a social phobia, or you may have a fear of something else, like spiders (arachnophobia).
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - if you’ve been through a trauma, PTSD can cause flashbacks or nightmares which make you feel like you’re reliving the trauma, causing anxiety.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - if you have repetitive thoughts or behaviours, you may have OCD.
  • Health anxiety - if you’re constantly worried you’re ill, you could have this disorder.
  • Dermatillomania - also known as skin picking disorder, this is when you are unable to stop touching, picking or scratching at your skin.
  • Trichotillomania - also known as hair pulling disorder, this is when you pull out your hair.

Anxiety attacks

Anxiety attacks, or panic attacks, as they’re also known, can be very scary and happen suddenly, even for no particular reason. Signs you’re having an attack include:

  • A racing heart
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Feeling faint, weak or dizzy
  • Feeling sweaty or getting chills
  • Tingling in the hands and fingers
  • Feeling sick
  • Having the shakes
  • Chest pains
  • Churning in your stomach
  • A fear you’re dying, or a fear of dread
  • Dry mouth

Although very distressing, you’re in no immediate danger when suffering an attack. They usually last from five to 20 minutes before the symptoms ease.

When an attack happens, it’s recommended that you focus as much as possible on your breathing techniques, which can help to calm you down.

Our doctors can help you practise these techniques and build a coping strategy that’s unique to you. You can then use this whenever you feel an anxiety attack may be about to happen.

You usually don’t need to go to hospital after an attack, but it is a good idea to see a doctor to help diagnose the underlying cause if you haven’t done so already.

Health conditions that cause anxiety

Your anxiety could also be because of an underlying health condition that needs to be treated. In fact, in some cases, this can be the first sign of an undiagnosed illness.

It’s also common to experience anxiety alongside other mental health conditions, including depression. If our doctors suspect this is the case, they can recommend the right course of treatment, or refer you to see a specialist if they think that you need more specific help.

Medical conditions that can cause anxiety include:

  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid problems
  • Diabetes
  • Respiratory disorders, like COPD or asthma
  • Drug/alcohol abuse or withdrawal
  • Chronic pain or IBS
  • In very rare cases, tumors

Some medications can also also be the cause of your anxiety. Speak to a doctor if you think this may be the case.

Getting treatment for your anxiety symptoms

Our doctors can talk through how you feel, which will help them diagnose what’s causing your anxiety and get you started on a treatment plan. There’s no pressure. They’ll do everything at your pace, when you’re ready.

Treatment can include talking therapies, medication or a combination of both.

Talking therapies

You may find that simply talking about your anxiety with a doctor can help. Once you figure out the cause of it, you can start taking control of it.

There are also self-help groups you can attend if you feel comfortable enough to, or our doctors can refer you to a specialist to get the help you need.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

If, after speaking to you about your anxiety symptoms, your doctor thinks CBT could help you deal with your diagnosis, they may refer you for treatment.

CBT is designed to help you develop a way to manage your symptoms when they occur. They’ll show you how to retrain your brain into behaving differently to keep your symptoms under control.

Counselling is another talking therapy the doctor may refer you to. It will depend on your personal situation - the treatment will be designed around you.

Anxiety medication

Our doctors can prescribe medication designed to help reduce your anxiety. This could be antidepressants, beta blockers, or something else. They’ll use the information you give them to prescribe the right tablets and dose.

The cause of your anxiety will also impact their decision . As an example, if your anxiety is caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain, they may prescribe medication to correct this straight away.

If you’re worried that your anxiety is getting too much for you to manage, it’s really important that you speak to a doctor and get the help that you need. Our doctors can listen to your situation and offer you tailored advice and a treatment plan so that you can start to feel better.