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.

Relaxation

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.

Self-talk

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

Talking

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.

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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  1. Maureen (Admin) says:

    Hi Graham,
    It sounds like you have been having a really rough time of things lately, and I’m so sorry to hear that. Asking for help is a difficult step to take, but by reaching out you’ve started the process. That is a good thing!

    Everyone feels some anxiety or depression from time to time, but when it starts to interfere with your day-to-day life, that’s when it becomes a problem. You describe feeling uneasy walking down the street, that the whole world is against you, not wanting to go to work, and that you’ll be judged if you talk to someone for help. While only a doctor can make a diagnosis, from your description it sounds as if you could possibly be experiencing social anxiety. Check out our section on social anxiety for a more detailed description. These are difficult feelings to deal with, but what’s important to remember is that you are not alone or to blame and that help is available!

    I really encourage you to make an appointment with your local doctor/GP, who is there to help with feelings like the ones you explain. (If you don’t already have a GP, you can find one using the ICGP website). Your GP can help you by giving information and advice and can refer you to a counsellor, who can help further by talking and helping you to work out effective ways of getting through this. You can also look up counsellors yourself by visiting counsellingdirectory.ie. I know that speaking with someone for the first time can be hard, especially if you’re feeling you are being judged. Have a look at our section on getting help for tips on what you can expect and how you can prepare for your first visit. Just know that feeling worried, scared or embarrassed is not at all uncommon and that counsellors are used to dealing with all sorts of issues. No problem is too big, small, or odd for them to deal with and they are there to help.

    In the meantime, is there a friend or family member that you can trust with your feelings? Although the thought of starting the conversation can be scary, talking about what you’re feeling with someone you trust can help so much. If you’re not ready to talk with someone close to you, you could try contacting the Samaritans by calling 116 123 for free (24 hours a day) or emailing jo@samaritans.org. Someone is always there to listen confidentially if you need it. You do not have to go through this alone!

    Graham, I’m so happy that you took this first step of asking for help and advice. I hope this has helped. Please remember that although it’s hard now, you can get through this and things can get better for you!

    Take care,
    Maureen

  2. Graham says:

    Hi, im a 20 year old male and i feel anxious about the normal things people do such as walk down the road i feel like everybody is looking at me and that makes me feel uneasy and i sweat alot because of it. In the last week or so i feel so down and dont want to do anything or go to work and just think the whole world is against me, i feel like i need to talk to somebody but i don't no how to and im to scared because of how they might judge me. I would really appreciate if you could email me back for some advice. Thank you

  3. Fenella (Admin) says:

    Hi Eric,

    It sounds like you’re going through quite a tough, stressful and scary time and it is good that you’re looking for help and advice. You’re not alone in this and even though it’s tough at the moment, things can get better. Hopefully the information in this reply will be helpful to you.

    You mention you’ve been experiencing anxiety and panic attacks since your mam passed away. Losing someone close to us is one of the hardest things we will go through and I’m really sorry to hear about your mam. It’s not unusual to feel upset, anxious and panicked after someone we love passes away.

    Anxiety can sometimes show itself as physical symptoms like sweating, a racing heart and loss of breath. Anxiety can also often affect our sleep too. These physical symptoms can be scary and can leave us feeling overwhelmed and exhausted but they can be managed by learning to control them and reduce them.

    It’s really positive that you spoke with your doctor about this to get checked out and it’s good to hear that your heart is healthy. I wonder as well as mentioning the aches and pains, did you talk to your doctor about the anxiety you feel and the panic attacks you have had? This would be important information for your doctor to have. If you didn’t mention it before, I would encourage you to make another appointment with your doctor to talk it through with him or her. Even if you did mention it before, as it’s still continuing, I would encourage you to talk to your doctor again.

    It’s great that you are able to talk to your friend about everything but I wonder if you would think about also talking with a counsellor? Sometimes we need a bit of extra support and counsellors can be really great at letting us talk and offering advice for dealing with times of stress and anxiety. If you want to talk with a counsellor, you can ask your doctor to recommend someone local, or you can visit www.counsellingdirectory.ie to search for counsellors in your local area.

    Feelings of anxiety can affect our sleep, but when we’re tired we tend to feel even more anxious – a bit of a vicious circle unfortunately. Being in a routine really helps our sleep, i.e. going to bed at around the same time every night and getting up around the same time every morning. Exercising during the day can help to reduce feelings of anxiety and get rid of excess energy, just try not to exercise too close to bed time as your body needs time to wind down before sleep. It might seem like smoking is a way of relaxing, but marijuana can sometimes cause anxiety, so it might not be the best form of relaxation for you. Take a look at our section on Minding your mental health for more information on sleep, exercise and relaxation. Your doctor and counsellor might have more information on sleep as well if you wanted to discuss this with them as well.

    I hope this helps Eric.

    Take care,
    Fenella

  4. Eric says:

    Yeah talking helps but sometimes it can be difficult for people like it was at me at the start. I got anxiety when I was 16 my mam passed away on September 27th 2012 and life was tough I was constantly upset. But I didn't get anxiety or start to get anxiety for several months after she passed, I smoked marijuana with my mates and I couldn't breathe, I was sweating, my heart was racing, and I put my head in my legs to breathe but I thought of my aunties and that if I sat in her sitting room I would die, I was terrified but I slept that night but more of a passed out. Since that I had 3 random panic attacks and now I'm 18 but I still get aches and pains throughout my body and get loss of breath I don't know what to do its still scary but I do relax more but it's still hard, I tell my friend everything but even then it doesn't help, I went doctors and they even said my heart was healthy but it's still scary as ever everyday. I can't sleep properly, I get recurring nightmares, sleep paralysis a few times. Can someone help or give me some advice please?

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