What is anxiety?
Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear or imminent disaster, and is a normal emotional response to danger. What makes one person anxious may not trigger the same response in someone else. Events like breaking up, exams or a fight with a friend may cause you to feel anxious, worried or scared.
Everyone feels some anxiety at different times during life. It becomes a problem if you feel so anxious that it interferes with your normal day-to-day activities. If this occurs, it’s important that you seek help. A local doctor or a mental health professional is a good place to start if you’re looking for help.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
Anxiety can affect both your physical health and your mental health (behavior and feelings). The symptoms you experience can depend on a number of factors. These might pass quickly or can stay for a long period of time. Some common ways that anxiety might affect your mental health include:
- Irritability or constantly being in a bad mood
- Feeling worried, or a constant feeling that something bad is about to happen
- Often asking many unnecessary questions and requiring constant reassurance
- Getting upset when your routine changes; for example, a substitute teacher, unexpected visitors, or a trip to an unfamiliar place
- Being a loner, or hanging out with a small group of group of people (who are often younger or older)
- Being a perfectionist; for example, taking a long time to complete homework because you try to make it absolutely correct
- Being argumentative (but not usually aggressive), especially when trying to avoid a feared situation
- Being pessimistic and easily able to identify what may go wrong in any given situation
- Not answering questions and rarely volunteering comments or information at school
Some common ways that anxiety might affect your physical health include:
- Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty getting to and staying asleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle tension and headaches
- Rapid heart rate and breathing
- Flare-up of another health problem or illness (for example, dermatitis or asthma)
- Sexual problems, such as not having any sexual feelings or interest in sex
What can I do if I am feeling anxious?
Changing your lifestyle: There are many things that you can do to decrease anxiety in your life. Look at the things that are causing you stress and, if possible, change your lifestyle to avoid or confront those things.
Eating and exercise: When people feel anxious, they often neglect themselves. Ensuring that you’re eating healthy foods, regular meals, and getting frequent exercise will improve your overall health and well-being.
Relaxation: There are many ways you can relax. Check out the Relaxation fact sheet or some of the many self-help books on the topic. Some ideas include going for a walk, taking a class like yoga or Tai Chi, learning to meditate or playing soccer with a friend.
Talking: Bottling things up is likely to keep your anxiety levels high. If possible, talk to a friend, family member, or counselor about the things that are making you feel anxious and see if they can be resolved.
Avoid avoidance: Avoiding the things that make you anxious (like school, tests, social situations, etc) may give you a moment of temporary relief, but avoidance actually increases anxiety in the long run. You end up with more worry and less confidence in your ability to cope. Gradually confronting situations that make you anxious might give you a slight short-term rise in nervous feelings but a long-term decrease in anxiety symptoms and improved self-confidence.
If you are feeling so anxious that it’s impacting your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder. Check out the Anxiety disorders: types, causes and symptoms fact sheet for more information on the different anxiety disorders and how they can be treated.
Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective in helping people overcome anxiety disorders. People like your local doctor or a mental health professional can help you, or refer you to someone who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Medication may also be helpful in managing symptoms and is something that a doctor or psychiatrist may advise as part of treatment.
Check out the Get Help section of the site to find more about what these people do and how they can help.
Last edited by Kristie - Feb 2014.