What you need to know about anxiety

Most people will experience feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives. It can be caused by stressful situations, such as job interviews, exams, financial worries, relationship problems or medical concerns, or have no apparent cause.

According to the mental health charity Mind, around one in six people in the UK report feelings of anxiety. While it can be mild, some people experience more severe levels of anxiety that can lead to panic attacks. Ongoing high levels of stress can also lead to continued anxiety and other mental health issues, including depression. 

So what exactly is anxiety, what are the symptoms and how is it treated?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the term used to describe the fight, flight or freeze response when we feel under threat. It can be triggered by outside events, such as moving house, big life changes or a serious illness.

It can also be caused by worrying about events that haven’t happened and may never happen, often assuming the worst without any rational evidence. This is called catastrophising or catastrophic thinking.

For some people, anxiety can be hard to get past and you may feel anxious for days, weeks, months or even years. It can also get worse over time, with some people finding that it becomes so severe that it affects their daily life. In these instances, you may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

What types of anxiety are there?

There are different types of anxiety as well as anxiety disorders. Types of anxiety include:

  • Panic attacks ie a sudden episode of intense fear with physical symptoms
  • Performance anxiety eg exam nerves, perfectionism or fear of bullying
  • Phobias eg fear of flying, fear of spiders or health anxiety (hypochondria)

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Symptoms of anxiety can be distressing and sometimes so extreme that they mimic a heart attack. While symptoms can vary for different people, anxiety causes your body to go on high alert. You may experience: 

  • Feelings of panic, danger and fear
  • Increased or heavy sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
  • Rapid heart rate

You may also experience trembling or muscle twitching, feelings of weakness or lethargy and trouble concentrating. Digestive issues, such as stomach pains, constipation, gas or diarrhoea are also common symptoms of anxiety.

You’ll likely have a strong desire to avoid the triggers that cause your anxiety, including certain places, people or activities.

What are the symptoms of a panic attack?

In some cases, high levels of anxiety may lead to a panic or anxiety attack. A panic attack is when sudden distress or fear peaks very quickly and leaves you experiencing several of these symptoms:

These symptoms can leave you shaking or trembling and/or short of breath. Your limbs may also feel numb or tingly. A panic attack can also cause emotional symptoms, such as:

  • Feeling detached from yourself
  • Fear of dying
  • Fear of losing control

These symptoms can be severe and mirror life-threatening conditions, such as a heart attack. If you experience intense symptoms and you don’t have a history of anxiety, didn’t experience an emotional trigger and your symptoms don’t ease off after a few minutes, seek urgent medical attention.

Anxiety disorders

Most people will experience at least one form of anxiety at some point in their life. If you often have intense anxiety about everyday situations and it’s affecting your life, you may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)

Those diagnosed with GAD are likely to experience intense anxiety about situations, activities and events that they deal with every day. Worrying about these tasks and events can make it difficult or impossible to complete them. GAD can result in physical symptoms, such as insomnia, headaches and an upset stomach.


Agoraphobia is a fear of certain situations or places, usually, because they cause someone to feel powerless, trapped, overwhelmed or embarrassed. These feelings can become quite extreme and lead to panic attacks.

Panic disorder

If you regularly suffer from sudden panic attacks you may have panic disorder. It can cause severe anxiety and feelings of terror that can get worse very quickly.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

OCD causes unwanted and intrusive thoughts that lead to anxiety. If you have OCD, you may find that you try to counter the thoughts by performing certain rituals to reduce your anxiety. These rituals can include counting, washing your hands or repeatedly checking things.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Traumatic events can cause stress and anxiety long after they’ve happened. When someone experiences a trauma, such as an assault, accident, natural disaster or war, it can trigger PTSD. You may experience flashbacks and have bad dreams, severe anxiety, depression and obsessive thoughts about the event.

How is anxiety treated?

There are several options to treat anxiety and bring your symptoms under control. Treatments include:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy
  • Compassion-focused counselling
  • Graded exposure
  • Imaginal exposure with hypnotherapy ie using relaxation and visualisation techniques with images
  • Journalling to keep track of what strategies have helped
  • Medication

If you’re experiencing high levels of anxiety on a regular basis, visit your GP for an assessment. They may be able to refer you on for further treatment.

You may be able to manage short-term or mild anxiety yourself. You can try:

  • Staying active — physical exercise promotes positive feelings and can improve your confidence and self-esteem
  • Relaxation techniques — meditation, yoga, long baths and breathing exercises can help you feel more relaxed and less anxious
  • Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones — anxiety can cause you to dwell on negative thoughts, so practise identifying them and replacing them with positive thoughts 
  • Stress management — reducing stress can help with managing anxiety, so trying stress management techniques can help reduce potential anxiety triggers
  • Talk to your support network — friends, family and professional counsellors or therapists can help you work through your anxiety

How can you prevent anxiety?

Although anxious feelings are a part of life, there are ways to reduce them and prevent prolonged feelings of anxiety. Different methods will work better for different people, so see what works best for you.

Some ways to prevent or moderate feelings of anxiety include:

While there are some over-the-counter or herbal remedies that may help with anxiety, it’s important that you consult your GP or a pharmacist before taking them. Some remedies may include ingredients that can make symptoms worse or that could react with other medications you are taking.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

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Author Information

Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.