Anxiety and panic attacks
Explains anxiety and panic attacks, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.
Anxiety is a natural human response when we feel that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
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.
Most people feel anxious at times. It's particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life. See our pages on how to manage stress for more information about stress.
If you are feeling anxious or experiencing a panic attack right now, see our page on how to manage panic attacks.
Going out of the house is a challenge because I have a fear of panicking and feel that I'm being watched or judged. It's just horrible. I want to get help but I'm afraid of being judged.
When is anxiety a mental health problem?
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem if:
- your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- you avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- you find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy.
If your symptoms fit a particular set of medical criteria then you might be diagnosed with a particular anxiety disorder. But it's also possible to experience problems with anxiety without having a specific diagnosis. Our pages on self-care and treatment for anxiety offer suggestions for help and support.
What do anxiety problems feel like?
Watch Lewis, Polly, Faisal, Shelley and Brian talk about what living with anxiety problems feels like for them, and what helps them cope:
You know that feeling when you're rocking on the back legs of your chair and suddenly for a split second you think you're about to fall; that feeling in your chest? Imagine that split second feeling being frozen in time and lodged in your chest for hours/days, and imagine with it that sense of dread sticking around too, but sometimes you don't even know why.
This information was published in February 2021. We will revise it in 2024.
References and bibliography available on request.
If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.