De-mystifying anxiety

Anxiety can take many forms and is experienced differently by each individual. Symptoms of anxiety can be both physical and psychological. When extreme, experiencing anxiety can interfere with day to day life and be distressing.

Some people have a few symptoms of anxiety and others experience more. Everyone is different. Symptoms of anxiety include dizziness, restlessness, irritability, a fast or irregular heartbeat (palpitations), muscle tension, trembling land shaking, shortness of breath, dry mouth, and difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Other symptoms can include pins and needles, sweating and hot flushes, needing the toilet more or less often and experiencing panic attacks. Often, when anxious it is common to fear the worst and have a very busy mind full of thoughts. When anxious, one can feel like others can see your anxiety and your awareness of yourself and your body can be heightened. Often I find there is a tendency to dwell on negative experiences and think over situations again and again. People have told me they feel numb or feel very restless and are unable to concentrate. 

There are a number of anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. In my experience I have found that there are links between anxiety and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, anorexia bulimia and obesity. Often anxiety shows itself through how people relate to their food and eating.

People who experience longer term anxiety can also feel depressed and have problems sleeping. It is common for smoking, drinking, eating and recreational drugs to be used to help cope with anxiety.

How do I know if I need help with my anxiety?

If your level of anxiety is getting in the way of your daily life, and is causing you distress, it is important to seek help. You may withdraw and avoid family, friends and diary actions that you feel may increase your anxiety. This can feel debilitating. As a result you can feel isolated. Often anxiety can hinder work and life activities become stressful and a real effort.

How can anxiety be treated?

There are two different approaches to support people. Short term therapy can help soothe the symptoms of anxiety being experienced. Longer term therapy can help understand the causes of the anxiety. If someone has been anxious for many years, it makes sense that it will take same time to heal and feel better. In engaging in therapy, you will develop your self-awareness and be able to make meaning of your own anxiety. It is only with this kind of reflective capacity that change can be made.

Medication and anxiety

There are modern medicines known as selective serotonin uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) which can give relief to some of the symptoms you might experience. Medication can help soothe the symptoms of anxiety. This can be used with a combination of therapy to help you feel better.

What causes anxiety?

This is a complex question. In my experience of dealing with my clients’ and their anxiety is that what causes anxiety is complex and will be different from one person to another. There will be many aspects that require careful thought and consideration including an individual’s past, their childhood experiences and how they are in developing and maintaining relationships. It’s also important to consider every day life, the level of stress experienced, behaviour and habits. Considering an individual’s current physical and mental well being is paramount. Drugs and medication can have an impact on anxiety too. Some medication can heighten anxiety. Therapy can help you make sense of your own anxiety and increase your awareness and reflective ability. This is important and necessary in order to facilitate change.

Many people suffer from anxiety. According to Ehlers (1997) and Anxiety UK, 1 in 10 people will experience disabling anxiety disorder at some point in their life.  What is important is to be able to recognize the symptoms of anxiety you are experiencing and be able to make sense and contextualize them. Also, there are different degrees of anxiety. It is important to be able to recognize when anxiety is extreme and at distressing levels. If it is getting in the way of you living your life in the way you would like to. This is the time to seek help.


Anxiety UK (2016) How common is anxiety? (08.08.16)

Ehlers, A. (1997) ‘Anxiety disorders: Challenging negative thinking’. Quoted in the Welcome Trust Reviews.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
South Walsham, Norfolk, NR13
Written by Mandy Atkinson, UKCP accredited Psychotherapist, Supervisor & Trainer
South Walsham, Norfolk, NR13

Mandy Atkinson, MBACP (Accred.), MA, RGN, Cert. Ed. is an experienced counsellor providing counselling and psychotherapy from her practice in Hadlow, near Tonbridge, Kent. She provides short and longer term therapy for individuals of all ages and for couples and groups.

Show comments

Find a therapist dealing with Anxiety

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals