What is anxiety?

What is mental health?

The World Health Organisation (2001) describes good mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual recognises his or her own potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community’.

The main thing about mental health is it is not static - it changes and flows with individual circumstances. However when there is a mental health problem or illness, you can feel stuck, motionless and trapped.


Anxiety is an example of good mental health; everyone will suffer from anxiety. However it can become a problem or illness if it becomes a constant part of everyday life. Anxiety can be described as feeling uneasy, worried or fearful, which can fluctuate from mild to severe.

Anxiety is a ‘normal’ reaction that alerts you to danger, and is extremely useful in situations where real danger is present - triggering the release of adrenaline which supports the fight or flight response.

Anxiety in certain situations can also be useful for making you more alert and productive - aiding your performance. It can also make activities like going on a roller coaster seem more thrilling.

However when anxiety becomes a constant part of everyday functioning it can feel extremely debilitating and make life very frightening. If high anxiety runs in the family, or you had a difficult upbringing, this can increase the likelihood of feeling anxious in everyday life. However there may also have been a certain life event or trauma that triggered the ongoing feelings of anxiety.

In severe cases where anxiety is constant and becomes overwhelming, it can bring on panic attacks. Panic attacks become the link between feeling anxious and having physical symptoms of anxiety; an exaggeration of the body’s response to fear.

Panic attacks often show similar symptoms to those of a heart attack, and can enhance feelings of anxiety. Symptoms of a panic attack can include a dry mouth, increased heart rate, feeling dizzy or faint, inability to think cognitively, nausea, sweating and feeling out of control.

Suffering from panic attacks can be extremely debilitating - limiting daily activities from the fear of triggering an attack, and in some severe cases can lead to acrophobia. When suffering from anxiety and panic over a prolonged period of time, your immune system and digestive system can suffer, and sufferer's tend to be more prone to feeling depressed.

Anxiety in relationships can become problematic, as many compromises have to be made. The person with anxiety may need constant reassurance, and places or activities may have to be avoided to reduce triggers. This can all lead to stress, anger and resentment within the relationship.

Couples counselling can help both partners understand the anxiety, aiding awareness and communication. Additionally individual counselling can look at possible causes and triggers in a safe environment, offering strategies to help manage the anxiety and cope with panic.

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

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