Anxiety is a common issue. In fact, most people experience it to some extent at some point or points in their lives. After all, it’s natural to feel anxious about certain situations, such as taking exams or going for job interviews. But when anxiety affects you all or most of the time, it can become a problem.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 24 per cent of adults in this country say they always or often feel anxious. Feeling anxious more often than not can affect your day-to-day life in a negative way. But what is it exactly, and how can you tell if it’s affecting you?

Natural reaction

During the earlier stages of human evolution, anxiety was a useful feeling as it helped people to survive. Health experts call it the ‘fight or flight’ response – that is, when faced with a life-threatening situation, it helped people to be more alert and react more quickly by releasing stress hormones into their bloodstream.

These days, we still have the same response to situations that cause fear or uneasiness. But that response is generally no longer useful because relatively few people face the same levels of life-threatening experiences today that affected our ancestors.

The symptoms of anxiety – or generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) if you have persistent anxiety – include dizziness, shakiness, increased breathing and heart rate, sweating, muscle tenseness and feelings of nervousness, stress and panic. Anxiety can also caused physical problems, such as depression, sleeplessness, low sex drive and a depressed immune system.

When is anxiety a problem?

If you experience one or more of the following on a regular basis, you may have higher-than-normal levels of anxiety:

  • You constantly worry that something bad will happen
  • You always fear the worst
  • Everything feels as if it’s going too fast or too slow
  • You’re obsessed with negative experiences
  • You look out for things that could go wrong all the time
  • You’re irritable and find it impossible to relax
  • You get flustered easily

Other signs that you may be experiencing long-term anxiety include smoking, drinking and using drugs to help you cope with the way you’re feeling – all of which may stop you enjoying life.

How can you help yourself?

If you’ve been diagnosed with GAD, you may be able to have treatment on the NHS such as talking therapies and anxiety medication. But there are also several things you can do yourself to manage the symptoms of anxiety, including the following:

Eat a balanced diet

Try to eat as healthily as possible, including at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Consider avoiding foods such as sugar and caffeine, as they may make feelings of anxiety worse. Cut back on alcohol if necessary, and give up cigarettes if you’re a smoker as this may help you to feel calmer.

Get physical

Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week, as physical activity helps to increase our production of ‘feel-good’ hormones that can help with stress and tension.

Relax more

Finding time for things that help you unwind can help relieve feelings of anxiety. Try some deep breathing exercises whenever you feel anxious – read more about mindful breathing exercises by reading our article Mindfulness in minutes.

Talk about it

Try not to bottle up any feelings of anxiety you may be having, as talking about it could help you manage whatever’s causing those feelings.

How CABA can help

If you're a past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or are a member of their families, and require financial support in retirement, we are here to help.

For advice and information call us on +44 (0) 1788 556 366, email enquiries@caba.org.uk or chat to us online.

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