anxiety and worry

Anxiety is very much a normal emotion.  In evolutionary terms, anxiety served as an alert to possible threat or danger, so that the best course of action could be quickly determined (such as, a fight or flight response).

We all feel anxious from time to time.  Yet, some people experience high levels of anxiety a lot of the time, either in specific or more general situations.

Common anxiety conditions:

  • Specific phobias – also known as a simple phobia – involves anxiety and fear about specific things, such as spiders, dogs or bees.
  • Health anxiety – is characterised by anxiety and worry about one’s health; for example, that one has become ill but symptoms have not yet been diagnosed / detected, or that one may become ill in the future.
  • Social anxiety – also known as social phobia – is characterised by anxiety about one or more social situations, and worry that one might do the wrong thing or be judged negatively by others.
  • Generalised anxiety and worry – involves anxiety and worry about a range of situations, either past, present or in the future.
  • Panic attacks – can occur as part of other conditions, or independently of these.  This involves instances of panic, anxiety and fear.


Common symptoms of anxiety conditions:

While there is a bit of variation between different anxiety conditions, there are some common processes and experiences that tend to be shared across all conditions.  These include: physical / autonomic symptoms (such as an increased heart rate or pulse, feeling hot and sweaty, restlessness, butterflies in one’s stomach, needing to use the toilet more frequently than usual); emotions (such as worry, fear, irritability); thoughts and thinking styles associated with anxiety (such as thinking something bad may happen, predicting the worst, underestimating the capacity to cope); and behaviours / responses (such as avoiding situations, replaying past events in our minds, putting off making decisions).  Anxiety can get in the way of everyday functioning, and knock the confidence to try new things or be assertive.  Some people who have anxiety also have times when they feel low in mood, helpless or hopeless.

How do anxiety conditions develop?

General causes of anxiety can include a combination of factors; for example,  life experiences or key events that have influenced how we feel and think about specific situations, other people or ourselves, a build up of stress, the impact of long-term low mood or physical or mental health conditions, availability of support at the time we feel we need this, and coping styles.

What can help?

Anxiety and worry are highly treatable.  Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is the recommended treatment of choice for the range of anxiety conditions.  Some people find that Mindfulness-based Approaches and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can be useful alongside this.