Anxiety is a word we use to describe feelings of unease, worry and fear. It incorporates both the emotions and the physical sensations we might experience when we are worried or nervous about something.
It's common to be anxious from time to time: you might feel tense, nervous and perhaps fearful at the thought of a stressful event or decision you’re facing, for example:
- going into hospital
- getting a promotion
- moving house
- having a baby
- getting married or divorced
In situations like these it’s understandable to have worries about how you will perform, or what the outcome will be. For a short time you might even find it hard to sleep, eat or concentrate. Then usually, after a short while or when the situation has passed, the feelings of worry stop.
When does anxiety become a mental health problem?
It's sometimes hard to know when it's becoming a problem for you – but if your feelings of anxiety are very strong, or last for a long time, it can be overwhelming.
- You might find that you’re worrying all the time, perhaps about things that are a regular part of everyday life, or about things that aren’t likely to happen – or even worrying about worrying.
- You might regularly experience unpleasant physical and psychological effects of anxiety, and maybe panic attacks.
- Depending on the kind of problems you experience, you might be given a diagnosis of a specific anxiety disorder.
If anxiety is affecting your ability to live your life the way you’d like to, it's worth thinking about ways to help yourself, and what kind of treatments are available.
What does anxiety feel like?
If you experience anxiety, you might find that you feel some of the sensations in the table below. Anxiety can feel different for different people, so you might also experience other kinds of feelings, which aren't listed here.
- tense muscles and headaches
- pins and needles
- feeling light headed or dizzy
- faster breathing
- sweating or hot flushes
- a fast, thumping or irregular heart beat
- raised blood pressure
- difficulty sleeping
- needing the toilet more frequently, or less frequently
- churning in the pit of your stomach
- experiencing panic attacks
- feeling tense, nervous and on edge
- having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
- feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
- feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you
- feeling your mind is really busy with thoughts
- dwelling on negative experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again
- feeling restless and not being able to concentrate
- feeling numb
For me, anxiety feels as if everyone in the world is waiting for me to trip up, so that they can laugh at me. It makes me feel nervous and unsure whether the next step I take is the best way forward.
What are the long-term effects of anxiety?
If you have felt anxious for a long time or you’re frequently anxious, you may experience additional effects in your mind and body, such as:
You might also have difficulty with everyday aspects your of life, such as:
- coping with the demands of your job
- developing or maintaining relationships
- simply enjoying your leisure time
This information was published in July 2015. We will revise it in 2018.