Am I Suffering from Anxiety Symptoms?

It’s important to know that it’s normal to feel a little anxious every now and then. It tends to occur in high-pressure, stressful situations, but what’s important to understand is that everyone’s definitions of stress may be different.

Some people might find a job interview or first date stressful, and some others might find something as simple as a car journey stressful.

Common causes of anxiety

Below, we list some of the common causes of anxiety:

  • Stress at work, at home, or in your relationships
  • Emotional trauma
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Diet
  • Childhood experiences
  • Side effects of medication
  • Being diagnosed with an illness
  • Exams, upcoming assessments or deadlines [1]

These are just some of the common causes of anxiety, but causes and triggers can be different for everyone.

Generally, anxiety tends to subside after the stressful moment and event have passed, but when that anxiety doesn’t subside, this might be signs of an anxiety disorder. According to research carried out by the NIMH [2] anxiety disorders can arise due to both genetic and environmental factors.

Common symptoms of an anxiety disorder

Below, we list some of the common causes of anxiety disorder:

  • Surge of overwhelming panic
  • Feeling of losing control
  • Heart palpitations or chest pain
  • Feeling like you’re going to pass out
  • Trouble breathing or choking sensation
  • Hyperventilation
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or stomach cramps
  • Feeling detached or unreal

Types of anxiety

There are many different types of anxiety, and knowing exactly which type of anxiety you’re suffering from is important. Once you know what type of anxiety you’re suffering from, you’re more likely to seek the right type of help.

Here are some of the most common types of anxiety that you might be suffering from [3]:

  • Agoraphobia is a type of anxiety disorder that means you avoid and fear places or situations that might cause you to feel stressed
  • Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition is when you feel anxious or worried or about your physical health
  • Generalized anxiety disorder includes excessive worry about an activity or event. These could be large events or just ordinary everyday events. The concern and worry might seem out of proportion in reality to the actual activity or event to someone else
  • Panic disorder includes persistent, repeated feelings of intense fear or panic that come on quickly and reach a peak. This is also known as a panic attack. During a panic attack, you may experience shortness of breath, pain in your chest, or irregular heart palpitations and can sometimes be confusing and highly stressful for someone experiencing them
  • Selective mutism occurs most commonly in children. It occurs when they struggle or fail to speak in public and can often interfere with their school work and social functioning whilst at school
  • Separation anxiety disorder is often also related to children. However, it can occur at any age. It’s characterized by feelings of anxiety or panic when being separated for either a long or short period of time from a person or place
  • Social anxiety disorder is also often described as social phobia and is characterised by the desire to avoid social situations in fear of embarrassment or self-consciousness
  • Specific phobias occur when you experience high levels of anxiety when you’re exposed to a specific object or situation which you wish to avoid
  • Substance-induced anxiety disorder occurs as a direct result of using drugs or medications. It can also occur when someone is undergoing a withdrawal from drugs [3]

Generalised anxiety disorder

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a common, long-term condition that is estimated to affect about 1 in every 25 people in the UK [4]. It means you feel anxious or worried about a wide range of things instead of just one specific and easily identifiable thing. People with GAD feel anxious most days and might struggle to remember the last time they didn’t feel stressed or anxious.

Signs you may have GAD:

  • Your worrying affects your daily life, including school, social and working life
  • You struggle to let go of your worries
  • You tend to feel anxious and worry about lots of different things, from your job to your health and even smaller concerns such as travel or housework
  • Your worrying is uncontrollable

The exact cause of GAD isn’t fully understood, but research suggests that it’s likely caused by a combination of overactivity in the brain, an imbalance of chemicals such as serotonin and noradrenaline, genetics, a history of traumatic or stressful experiences, drug abuse, and long term health conditions [4].

Effects of anxiety

If you think you’re suffering from some of the above symptoms, it’s important to understand that suffering from anxiety can have long and short-term effects on both the body and the mind.

Effects of anxiety on the body include:

  • A churning feeling in your stomach
  • Sleep problems
  • Grinding your teeth, especially at night
  • Excessively needing the toilet
  • Not being able to go to the toilet
  • Feeling restless or fidgety
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Pins and needles in your arms or chest
  • Aches and pains (including headaches and backaches)
  • Fast or irregular breathing or heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Unexplained nausea
  • Changes to your sex drive [1]

Effects of anxiety on the mind include:

  • Unable to relax
  • Negative bias, dread, or fearing the worst
  • Worrying about the effects of worrying
  • Feeling conscious that other people are looking at you and know that you are feeling anxious
  • Feeling like you can’t help but worrying
  • Feeling anxious that if you stop worrying, something bad will happen
  • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Craving excessive reassurance from other people
  • Worrying that you’re losing touch with reality
  • Feeling that people are constantly mad at you
  • Persistent low mood and depression
  • Ruminating on bad experiences
  • Overthinking situations
  • Depersonalisation – feeling disconnected from your mind or body, like you’re watching your life from afar
  • Derealisation – feeling disconnected from the rest of the world, or that things aren’t real
  • Anticipating the future – experiencing increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future [1]

Support & Treatment for anxiety

If you’re feeling a number of the symptoms and effects above, then you may be suffering from anxiety. If you feel like you might be suffering, then it’s always important to seek help from your GP or a professional mental health specialist.

There are a number of treatments available, and if you have been diagnosed with a form of anxiety then your GP will likely advise that you try psychological treatment before you’re prescribed any form of medication [5].

1. Guided self-help

At first, your GP might suggest that you try guided self-help to see if you are able to learn to cope with your anxiety without any further intervention. This may involve working through a CTB-based workbook or online course at home and in your own time, sometimes with the help and support of a therapist [5].

Diversely, you may be asked to join a weekly self-help group meeting where you meet a therapist and people with similar problems to see if you can tackle your anxiety as a group [5].

If this initial intervention doesn’t help, then you’ll usually be offered a different form of psychological therapy or medication.

2. CBT therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective treatments for anxiety [5]. It helps the sufferer to question your negative thoughts and tackle the tasks or situations that might usually make you anxious head-on. Studies have shown that the benefits of CBT may last longer than the benefits of medication. [5].

CBT therapy involves 1-hour sessions with a specially trained therapist every week for around 3 to 4 months, although people often continue attending meetings for as long as is needed for recovery.

3. Applied relaxation

Popular with people suffering from GAD, applied relaxation involves working with a trained therapist to relax your muscles during situations that would usually cause your anxiety. It involves learning how to relax your muscles properly, and learning how to relax your muscles in situations that would usually make you anxious. Similar to CBT, Applied Relaxation involves meeting with a trained therapist for 1-hour sessions for up to 3-4 months [5].

4. Medication

If the above psychological treatments have not been successful and if you’re still feeling anxious then you may need to approach your GP for medication. Your local GP can prescribe you a range of medication which, depending on your symptoms, may be able to treat both psychical and psychological symptoms of anxiety [5].

If you are considering speaking to your GP about medication for your anxiety, then they will need to discuss with you the different types of medication available and the necessary length of treatment. They will also discuss the possible side effects of certain medications with you, and they will arrange regular appointments to assess your reaction and progress.