Anxious or fearful

All of us experience anxiety and sometimes it can seem like fear, after all we’re human beings and even the staunchest of us will be fearful or worried from time to time. It’s often hard to differentiate when you are anxious and when you are afraid – for example, are you scared of flying or are you worried about flying. Whether it’s a fear or an anxiety doesn’t really matter, but it becomes a problem when any fears or anxieties affect your ability to cope with your daily responsibilities.
This section defines anxiety in detail, describes the different kinds of anxiety you may experience and gives suggestions as to what you can do about it and where you can get help if you need it.

Anxious or fearful

What is anxiety?

A common symptom is having lots of worried thoughts in your head, which you know are unhelpful (or even silly) but are hard to stop. These thoughts, which are often negative, keep replaying in your mind, and it just makes the anxiety or fear get worse. Anxiety can also make you react more quickly or more intensely to situations. It even causes physical symptoms so strong that often people feel like they might be having a heart attack.

There are different kinds of anxiety; some even have a name:

  • Generalised anxiety, where you worry constantly about lots of things. People may comment to you that you are a “worrywart”

  • Social anxiety, where you get worried in social situations and feel like you are being judged

  • A panic attack is a surge of anxiety, which is mostly felt as physical symptoms, such as feeling your heart beat, feeling dizzy and faint, feeling hot and sweaty and having difficulty breathing.

  • Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder that can result in a panic attack. It is characterised by people getting so anxious that they avoid places or situations where the panic attack may happen

  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a type of anxiety where you get lots of obsessive thoughts and then feel the need to do things to help these thoughts, such as worrying about germs, which results in you constantly washing your hands.

  • Specific phobias like a fear of flying, needles, small spaces or spiders

When does anxiety become a problem?

As mentioned previously, it’s normal to feel a little anxious sometimes and in most cases this anxiety passes quickly. For example, how you feel at a job interview, or on a first date, or when you get pulled over for speeding. It’s when these feelings continue or happen very frequently to a point that they start to affect your work, home life or just general quality of life.

Keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Physical symptoms – breathlessness, sweating, a racing heart, trembling, nausea, dizziness

  • Emotional symptoms – irritability, fear, lack of confidence, worry or a loss of control

  • Irrational thoughts – continuous worries or a feeling of impending doom with no real evidence to suggest this is the case

  • Behavioural symptoms – avoiding situations that have been a problem in the past or obsessing about certain things

What can I do about it?

Try these self-management tools, as they may be all you need to manage your anxiety. They are also useful additions to getting professional help.

Anxiety management strategies

 Some people who have problems with anxiety find that breathing exercises and muscle relaxation helps. If you’re worried about a particular problem or situation, look at the tools and skills in problem solving from the Resilience Toolkit 

Helpful self-talk

Sometimes, anxiety can be so intense that it feels dangerous, or completely overwhelming. It can be helpful to remind yourself that even though it might feel that way, it’s not. Try telling yourself things like: “Even though this is horrible, it's not dangerous or life-threatening ”; "These feelings will pass”; “I’ve survived anxiety like this in the past”.  The way you think affects the way you feel. Use the helpful thinking section to practice spotting any unhelpful thoughts, and replacing them with more helpful ones.

Avoid avoiding

Because anxiety is an unpleasant feeling, it’s easy to want to avoid being in situations where you might feel anxious. This isn’t really helpful though, because it doesn’t give you a chance to learn to take control of your anxiety. Even though it might be hard, try not to let your anxiety take over and stop you from doing things you enjoy or achieving your goals. It’s also important not to withdraw further from your family and friends, or your daily routine (e.g. work, study).

Getting help

Sometimes, self-management isn’t enough and you need some professional help. This isn’t a sign of weakness; you have a condition that needs treating just like if you needed antibiotics for an infection.

  • For the past few months, have you worried a lot about lots of things most days? Do you find it hard to control your worries? Do your worries skip from topic to topic? Would others describe you as a ‘worrier’? Find out more information about generalised anxiety disorder.

  • Do you often feel anxious or embarrassed when you are the centre of attention? Would you describe yourself as very shy? Do you find yourself avoiding social situations such as meeting new people, talking in meetings or making speeches? Find out more information about social anxiety.

  • Do you sometimes feel a sudden surge of extreme anxiety or panic in situations where most people would not be afraid? Do these panic attacks often seem to come ‘out of the blue’? Do you feel uneasy in situations where you might have a panic attack, or where it might be hard to escape or get help? Or do you avoid those situations altogether? Find out more information about panic disorder