What is anxiety?

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

It’s 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

There are a number of things you can try to reduce your feelings of anxiety.

Making changes

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 well-being.


There are loads of ways to relax but some of us need to learn how. Different things work for different people, but it’s really important 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 that 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. People like your local doctor or a clinical psychologist can help you either themselves or can refer you to someone who suits. You can 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.


Comments Show all comments

  1. Lisa Lavin says:

    My biggest regret in life was taking an "anti-depressant" for panic attacks! I ended up with a label of "Bipolar" after taking these drugs are they can cause mania etc in some people.It was an expensive and painful lesson.

    At the time I had a copy of Aine Tubridy's book "When Panic Attacks" which discusses adrenaline, Co2/o2 levels and comes with a relaxation CD. I was also going from some therapy. Lifestyle issues are also a factor eg alcohol, sugar, caffeine etc So a healthy diet is also important.


    Mental/physical health requires daily work eg I start the day with Yoga etc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4PgIfOOHwH8

    "The Feeling Good handbook" by David D Burns is a workbook that does CBT.

    When it comes to anxiety, it goes back to the breath and learning to breath properly. At least that is a good starting point.

    [Never stop or change prescribed psychoactive drugs without talking to an doctor, due to the dangers of withdrawal]

  2. ReachOut.com says:

    Hi Clare,

    We’re really sorry to hear about how you are feeling. It sounds like these feelings of anxiety about your health are disrupting your everyday life and we hope we can direct you to supports that can help.

    Being anxious about our health is normal, but when it starts to disrupt our lives and take over as you say, we know it’s time to do something about it.

    You’re right in saying that anxiety can manifest itself as physical symptoms like headaches, upset stomachs and dizziness etc. We would hope that in addressing the feelings of anxiety, that these physical symptoms would go away too.

    From your email address, it looks like you are a student at UL. If you are, UL have a really good health centre with access to reduced cost medical care and free counselling for all students. The Student Health Centre is located in Main Building, C Block, Level M. See their website for more information.

    UL Student Counselling offers a drop in service from 11am to 12pm and from 3pm to 4pm Monday to Friday during term time. They have directions to the room and more information about the counselling they provide on their website. We would encourage you to get in touch with them. Counselling can help us to understand why we feel anxious, to work through feelings of anxiety and to come up with ways of coping with anxious and stressful feelings.

    We wonder if you have been able to talk to any trusted friend or family member about how you are feeling? It’s not easy to talk to people close to us, but it’s worth it, as it’s good to know there is someone there to talk to when we’re feeling stressed and anxious.

    Sometimes when we’re feeling stressed and anxious, we can forget to look after ourselves by eating properly and getting enough exercise. It can also be hard to sleep properly when we’re stressed. Focusing on these things though can help to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. It might be worth going for a walk as often as you can to help clear your head and get some exercise. It might not seem like it, but it really does help. Maybe a friend could join you? It might help to have a look through our minding our mental health section for more information on sleep and exercise.

    Writing down how we feel in a journal or doing meditation like Yoga can help too. Anything that can distract you from the anxiety for a while and clear your mind is good.

    You can get through this Clare and we hope you do contact the counselling services in UL. You’re not alone and you deserve support to help you through this. Things can get better.

    Let us know if you have any other questions.

    Take care,

  3. ReachOut.com says:

    Hi Tiegan,

    We’re really glad you got in touch with us. Writing down how you feel is not an easy thing to do, but it’s a very positive step to take. We’re sorry to hear how you are feeling and we hope this reply will be helpful.

    You mention feelings of anxiety and that you sometimes cut yourself when you’re feeling really down. There are ways of getting through feelings of anxiety and ways to stop cutting. You don’t always have to feel the way you do now.

    Sometimes we harm ourselves as a way of coping with feelings of anxiety. It can seem to help in the short-term, but it’s not a long-term solution as we think you know. To help you stop cutting, you need to address the anxious feelings you have. It can be very hard to do this alone and you deserve support to help you through it.

    It’s not easy to tell someone close to us how we’re feeling and you did the right thing by talking to one of your best friends. Your friend was probably unsure what to do and so told her mam to get some advice. At ReachOut.com, we always tell people not to keep it a secret if a friend tells you something concerning. It can feel like she broke your trust or is judging you, but we’re sure she just wants to help.

    We wonder could you speak to someone like your doctor about this? Generally the first place to go with a health concern like anxiety is our local doctor. If you are under 18 years of age Tiegan, the doctor may need to speak with a parent or guardian first. It is worth letting your doctor know what age you are over the phone or by calling in to see them and asking if you can talk to them on your own or if you need your parents/guardians with you. There’s lots of information and advice your doctor can give and they can also refer to other services like counselling. It is worth talking to your doctor about this.

    You’ve done one of the hardest things and spoken to a friend. It was a very brave thing to do, and although it might not have worked out as you expected, your friend does know now and that’s a good thing. Now that she knows, maybe you could keep talking to her? Or ask her to come with you to the doctors or be with you when you talk to your parents/guardians.

    You can read our self harm factsheet for information on ways of dealing with self-harm and ways of coping without harming yourself. If you feel the urge to cut yourself, there are ways of distracting yourself until that feeling passes. The National Self-harm Network in the UK has a distraction list that might help We know it isn’t easy and it can take time, but you can get through this.

    As well as talking to your doctor, there are some things you can do to help reduce feelings of anxiety. Getting the right amount of exercise each day and the right amount of sleep is important. Eating a healthy diet and taking time out to relax are also important. Keeping a journal and writing down all your anxieties and concerns can help too. To find out more, have a look through our minding our mental health section.

    It’s not easy to ask for help, but you deserve that help and it will be worth it. You can get through this Tiegan and having the right support from family, friends and your doctor can make a huge difference. You’re not alone in this and things can get better.

    Please do keep reaching out for support and talk to your friend, family and your doctor.

    Take care,

  4. Clare says:

    Hi, I suffer from severe anxiety about my health, and have recently been experiencing clicking like noises in my neck and head when i move it, there is no pain although these noises may be far from malignant its causing me a great deal of stress, i find myself constantly worrying about my health and am hyper aware of every sensation in my body. I worry about going blind or having a brain haemorrage on a daily basis and cannot focus on day to day tasks at times, part of me is aware that the anxiety may be manifesting as physical symptoms like headaches, upset stomach, blurred vision, dizziness etc. yet i am forever fearful there could be more, i went for a full checkup at the end of the summer and everything came back perfect, i have had ekgs and heart monitors to check for irregular heart beat down to stress, and have even had a cat-scan following an accident in september however this crippling fear is taking over my life, i cannot afford to see a private therapist as i am in college with a single unemployed parent. Please help :-(

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