What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a common enough feeling that everyone experiences at some stage. It can be a normal emotional response to stressful situations.

Anxiety is also a natural emotional response that can help us prepare for challenges, like sitting that next exam or worrying about an awkward social occasion.

What makes one person anxious may not create the same response in someone else.

A break-up, concern about exams or work, or a fight with a friend can make you feel anxious, worried or scared.

While anxiety is an everyday feeling, it can become a problem when there is no obvious reason for that anxiety, or when anxious feelings persist for more than a couple of weeks.

How can anxiety affect you?

Taken on their own, individual symptoms of anxiety are things we all experience from time to time.

However, if you’re experiencing more than one of the following, over a couple of weeks or longer, you may need some extra support.

Some of the ways anxiety can affect you physically are:

  • dry mouth and/or difficulty swallowing
  • nightmares
  • difficulty getting to and staying asleep
  • poor concentration
  • muscle tension and headaches
  • rapid heart rate and breathing
  • sweating or trembling
  • diarrhoea
  • flare-up of another health problem or illness (e.g. dermatitis, asthma)
  • sexual problems, such as not having any sexual feelings or being interested in sex.

Some common ways anxiety can affect your behaviour and feelings include:

  • irritability or constantly being in a bad mood
  • worry or constantly feeling that something bad is about to happen
  • asking many unnecessary questions and requiring constant reassurance
  • being a perfectionist
  • being pessimistic and easily able to identify what may go wrong in any given situation.

How to try to reduce your feelings of anxiety

To start with, identify the times you get anxious and what causes you stress. Can you see changes you could make that might help?

Are there people that make the situation better or worse? Are there things that make you feel more relaxed that you can do more of?

Eating and exercise

When people feel anxious they often neglect themselves. Ensuring you’re eating healthy food at regular mealtimes and getting regular exercise will improve your overall health and wellbeing.


There are loads of ways to relax but some of us need to learn how. Different things work for different people, so you need to find what works for you.

Yoga, pilates and meditation are very popular these days with classes available in nearly every town but they’re not the only way to relax.

Going for a walk, run or playing football with a friend or just taking some time out for yourself are all methods of relaxing.


When you’re feeling anxious, remind yourself this is an uncomfortable feeling and it will pass. Try to distract yourself by thinking about something different.

See if you can concentrate on your breathing, focusing your attention elsewhere. Read more about self-talk.


Bottling things up can increase how anxious you feel. It can be hard but if possible, talk to a friend, family member or a GP about what’s making you feel anxious.

The simple act of talking to someone outside the situation can help get some perspective.

Give it time

Changes in behaviour don’t happen overnight. But, you can learn to manage feelings of anxiety and not let them take over.

Following the tips here will help and don’t forget to reach out to someone for extra support if you need it.

Extra support

If you’re feeling so anxious that it’s impacting on your day-to-day life, you might need some extra support. See face-to-face help to see who you can talk to if you decide you do.

Research has shown that cognitive behavioural therapy is very effective in helping people managing anxiety. This is not the only form of therapy that works. Find out about different approaches.

People like your local doctor or a clinical psychologist can help you either themselves or can refer you to someone who suits.

Search www.counsellingdirectory.ie for a counsellor or psychologist in your area.

Read about generalised anxiety disorder and the other articles in this section about anxiety and information on the causes and management.


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