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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.
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 perceive 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 managing stress for more information about stress.)
"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."
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if:
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 problems offer suggestions for help and support.
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 just 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 minutes/hours/days, and imagine with it that sense of impending doom and dread sticking around too, but sometimes you don’t even know why."
This information was published in 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.