Anxiety 101: How to know if you have it, how to cope with it and loads more info

Everything you need to know

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1. What exactly is anxiety?

In a nutshell, anxiety is the feeling of fear or panic. Most people feel anxious, panicky or fearful about all sorts situations in life like money problems or exams, but once the difficult situation is over, you usually feel better and can move on calmly. 

But sometimes the feelings of fear or anxiety continue after the difficult situation, or you may feel a stronger sense of fear than other people, and this is when anxiety becomes a problem that can affect you when you're trying to do everyday things.

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2. What are the differences between feeling anxious, and having anxiety?

We all know what it's like to feel anxious about certain situations. It's common to feel tense, nervous and perhaps fearful at the thought of a stressful event – especially if it could have a big impact on your life. For example:

  • sitting an exam
  • going into hospital
  • attending an interview
  • starting a new job
  • moving away from home
  • meeting new people

Because anxiety is a normal human feeling, 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 and become more of an issue.

  • You might find that you're worrying all the time, perhaps about 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.

3. What do you need to watch out for?

Symptoms of anxiety include feeling frightened, nervous or panicky either all the time, or when triggered by certain situations. You may also feel down or depressed and have difficulties sleeping and eating, be unable to concentrate on things and feel tired and irritable. 

Physically you might have palpitations or a racing of your heart, dry mouth, trembling, faintness and you may experience stomach cramps or diarrhoea. It's just generally not a good time, really.

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4. What forms can it take?

Young people with anxiety usually experience anxiety in three ways: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), panic attacks and/or phobias. 

It can pass down your family history and genes, or can be down to a traumatic event.  Some physical or mental health problems can make you anxious too, for example around half of people with depression have panic attacks at some point. It can be a mixture of things or part of your personality. 

There's LOADS of different forms of anxiety, and it's worth reading up about the one that you're feeling correlates to you.

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- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD affects 1 in 25 people in the UK, which is a pretty crazy statistic, and young people who have GAD worry a lot of the time about a huge variety of things. The anxiety makes doing every day things difficult, and get in the way of leading what would be described as a 'normal life'.  

Because there are lots of possible symptoms and effects of anxiety this can be quite a broad diagnosis, meaning that the problems you experience with GAD might be quite different from the problems another person experiences, even though you have the same diagnosis. 

- Panic Attacks

Panic attacks are feelings of extreme, overwhelming anxiety that come on in unpredictable attacks and usually last for about ten minutes, although everyone is different. It's the rapid build-up of physical sensations, such as pounding heartbeat, faintness, shaking and feeling unable to breathe.

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During a panic attack you might feel very afraid that you're losing control or even that you're going to die. The feelings gradually calm down usually in about ten minutes, but can leave you feeling quite shaken.

- Phobias

Phobias mean that you probably have anxiety about one thing in particular. The thing causing your anxiety might not be dangerous or troublesome to anyone else, but can make you feel really nervous and panicky for one reason or another. 

5. Looking after your own anxiety

A common and natural response to anxiety is to avoid what triggers your fear, so taking any action might make you feel more anxious at first. It can be difficult, but facing up to how anxiety makes you feel can be the first step in breaking the cycle of fear and insecurity. Talking to someone you trust about what's making you anxious can help.

Things that many anxiety sufferers say help them day to day include breathing exercises, distracting yourself, listening to music, reassuring thoughts, exercise, keeping a diary and eating a healthy diet.

6. What kinds of treatment are out there?

The kind of treatment your GP offers you might vary depending on your diagnosis, but it generally tends to be talking treatments, self-help resources or certain types of medication.

- Talking Treatments

Talking treatments, counselling or therapy are a process which mean you'll be working with a trained therapist, to understand the causes of your anxiety, the feelings you experience, and finding strategies to manage it.

There are lots of different types of talking treatments available, but the most commonly prescribed talking treatment for anxiety is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), because there is reliable evidence that it can be effective. 

- Self Help Resources

Self-help resources have been developed by health care professionals for you to use by yourself, and can be helpful in managing, understanding and controlling anxiety. Workbooks, computer programmes and exercise programmes are all super helpful, and can be prescribed through the NHS or charities for free if you're short of cash.

- Medication

Your doctor might offer to prescribe you some medication, usually one of four different types and not until you've tried other methods of treatment first. Antidepressants, beta blockers, tranquillisers and pregabalin are all used to combat anxiety, but obviously you'll have to chat with your GP to find out more about their uses, side effects, and to see if any of them are suitable for you.

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How can other people help?

Offering genuine empathy, minimising pressure and stress, offering help and resassurance, and learning more about anxiety are all really important if you want to be of use to someone who's suffering. 

It's also good to encourage them to seek help if you know they're struggling to cope. Give them a hand with making an appointment, maybe even go with them and offer to explore the possibilities together to make sure they don't feel alone.

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Useful places you can learn loads more

Anxiety UK: anxietyuk.org.uk

Support, help and information for those with anxiety disorders.

Anxiety Care UK: anxietycare.org.uk

Helps people to recover from anxiety disorders.

Mind: Mind.org.uk

Loads of really useful and simple information about a variety of mental health issues.

No Panic: nopanic.org.uk 

Provides a helpline, step-by-step programmes, and support for those with anxiety disorders.

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