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Anxiety – the signs & symptoms 

Understanding anxiety

Some people find it hard to control their worries and experience anxiety on a daily basis. Anxiety can be about a wide range of situations and issues, or about just one specific event. 

This fact sheet provides information about anxiety and where you can find support. 

What is anxiety? 

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear, usually focused on the future and what may happen. Feelings of anxiety exist on a spectrum ranging from mild to severe, and symptoms can be both physical and psychological.  

Our bodies have evolved a complex response to danger, often called the “fight or flight” or “fight flight or freeze” response. When our bodies respond in this way, our hearts beat faster and we may feel very alert. This is in order to help us to respond to a physical threat or danger. Once the danger has passed, we usually go back to a relaxed state. This is very effective if we need to jump out of the way of a car or run away from a predator. It is not a useful response if we have received a worrying email from our boss! Anxiety can become a problem if we are unable to switch off and move into a relaxed state, or if these feelings are very strong or distressing. It can also sometimes impact one’s ability to participate fully in life, as some people may start to avoid certain situations in order to avoid triggering anxiety. 

 Psychological symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • feeling nervous regularly over an extended period 
  • difficulties in falling asleep 
  • bad dreams when asleep 
  • disturbed sleep, for example, waking up worrying 
  • feeling tense and uptight 
  • feelings of extreme frustration 
  • a sense of dread 
  • feeling tearful 
  • wanting to escape. 

Physical symptoms can include: 

  • trembling or shaking 
  • a pounding heartbeat or palpitations (an irregular heartbeat) 
  • churning stomach 
  • feeling sick 
  • chest pains 
  • headaches 
  • sweating 
  • loss of appetite. 

Why do people become anxious?

There is often not just one reason for anxiety, but there can be multiple factors involved. Some of these can include: personality, difficult life experiences, and physical health. Anxiety conditions may develop when one or more stressful events occur in a person’s life. Common triggers include:- 

  • workplace stress 
  • pregnancy and giving birth 
  • family and/or relationship problems 
  • major emotional shock following a traumatic event 
  • verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse 
  • bereavement 
  • drugs and medication. 

Some health conditions can also contribute to feelings of anxiety. These can be chronic and ongoing health concerns, acute and life threating health conditions, or even allergies and intolerances. Some medications can also contribute to feelings of anxiety. 

Getting help 

If anxiety is affecting a person’s daily life or causing distress there are multiple sources of help. One place to start could be talking to your GP. Your GP will try to understand your situation and circumstances in order to ensure that the correct help is offered. There are also many places you can find to access counselling help – through your GP (you can even self-refer for counselling through some GP practices), you could check out the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) to find a qualified counsellor, or turn to us at Pharmacist Support for access to counselling support through our counselling partnership. You could also get help by looking at the Anxiety UK or Mind websites. 

 Self-help 

If you are interested in what you can do to manage anxiety yourself, there are several approaches that are evidence-based for you to try. Mindfulness has been shown to be helpful, as have some other techniques: