What is Anxiety: An Overview

It is quite normal to feel nervous, tense, worried or afraid. Feeling such discomfort does not necessarily mean you suffer from an anxiety disorder as normal feelings of apprehension are not the same as anxiety. One of the major features of an anxiety disorder is the feeling of a nonspecific discomfort that can occur without a real reason.

How Common Is Anxiety?

The World Health Organization (WHO) projects that anxiety disorders will become the second most common cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Around 275 million people suffered from anxiety disorders in 2016 globally.

NoPanic.org states that 7.8% of the British population suffer from some form of anxiety or depression.  That’s roughly 1 in every 13 people in the UK.

Females are twice as likely to experience generalised anxiety disorder than males.

Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety refers to a spectrum of mental health disorders. The most common forms of anxiety include:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Phobias
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

What is anxiety: An overview of the symptoms

Anxiety symptoms may be severe to the extent where they affect our emotions, thinking, and ability to perform day-to-day tasks. Also, anxiety can manifest through physical symptoms. If your emotional, cognitive and behavioral reactions are out of proportion with what is normally expected in a given situation, you may be experiencing anxiety.

Some of the most common emotional and cognitive symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Extreme worry and fear
  • Feeling agitated and irritated
  • Fatigue
  • A generalised fear of pending trouble
  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Attention and focus difficulties
  • A tendency to avoid situations or people that trigger anxiety

At the same time, you may be experiencing a variety of physical symptoms. Some of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety are:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Sleep problems
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach aches
  • Legs and arms numbness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Feeling constantly worn-out
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Anxiety Causes and Risk Factors

Research shows that many different factors or a combination of these can cause anxiety. Factors that may trigger anxiety include genetics, environmental factors, brain changes, other medical conditions and a person’s own thinking patterns.


In a way, anxiety runs in the family. This mental health condition is more common in people whose blood relatives also have anxiety. This NHS article looks into this further.

Environmental factors

Studies show that ongoing day-to-day stress can significantly contribute to anxiety disorders.

Other Illnesses

Other serious underlying medical conditions can cause anxiety disorder.

Brain Changes

Research shows that in some cases, anxiety may result from changes in the brain structure and function as well as from disturbances of hormones that occur as a reaction to stressful or traumatic life events.

Distorted Thinking Patterns

The above were all external factors on anxiety but anxiety symptoms often also develop internally as a result of a person’s insecurity, low self-esteem, self-criticism, and negative thinking patterns.


Anxiety Treatment

While it is not a life-threatening condition, anxiety can be very unpleasant and it can severely interfere with our everyday life. However, anxiety disorders are also highly treatable. The most effective treatments for anxiety are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

There is much scientific evidence that proves the effectiveness of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in treating anxiety. CBT is a short-term and goal-oriented therapy with a focus on specific problems. It has proven to be successful in helping people with anxiety by changing their dysfunctional thought patterns and behaviors

Exposure Therapy

This form of therapy is effective for obsessive-compulsive disorder and phobias. During therapeutic sessions, a person is gradually exposed to a situation or object that triggers fear. By the end of the treatment, the person learns to become less sensitive to a feared object/situation.

Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is an approach based on cognitive behavioural therapy. It was originally developed as a treatment for post traumatic stress disorder. However, EMDR has lately been used to treat a wide spectrum of mental health issues such as generalised anxiety disorder, phobias, panic attacks, and other mental health conditions.

Self-Help Strategies and Lifestyle Changes

The first step in overcoming anxiety is understanding what you are dealing with. To effectively manage anxiety, you need to understand what is causing it. Learn to recognise the circumstances or people that usually cause feelings of discomfort. Set clear personal boundaries, learn to assertively express your needs and feelings and make positive shifts in your lifestyle.

Practice mindfulness meditation and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. Studies show that mindfulness can ease anxiety symptoms, boost your optimism, and improve your self-esteem. Also, relaxation techniques like deep breathing or tightening and relaxing your body muscles that can help you feel relaxed and composed. Check out our blog post on Meditation for stress and anxiety or watch our video on 7 ways to relieve stress below…

There is also research to show that social media can affect your mental health and increase feelings of anxiety.  Try to limit your time on apps like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. For further reading on this check out our post on how social media affects your mental health


Recommended Posts
Change Font Size
Contrast Colours