Stress and anxiety are often mentioned together, but they’re not the same thing. In fact anxiety can be caused by stress – it’s what you feel when you’re uneasy about something, when you worry or when you’re afraid.
Most people experience some level of anxiety from time to time. In many situations, feeling anxious is perfectly normal – if you’re taking your driving test, for instance, or going for a job interview. But once the situation has passed, your anxiety should disappear too. It becomes more of an issue when you feel overwhelmed by anxiety on a more frequent basis – or even all of the time.
Anxiety can cause a range of physical and emotional symptoms, such as:
- Faster breathing or shortness of breath
- Increased or irregular heart rate
- Feeling tired but not being able to sleep
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Feeling restless, unable to concentrate
- Sweating or having hot flushes
- Feeling constantly on edge
- Fearing the worst (having a sense of dread)
- Feeling that other people are looking at you
- Not being able to stop thinking about negative things
- Not being able to motivate yourself
There are different levels of anxiety:
Generally speaking, mild anxiety is the type that most of us experience on a day-to-day basis during certain situations. You may have an uneasy feeling in your stomach, and you may feel your pulse increase slightly. But anxiety at this level can also be beneficial, as it can help you to focus and increases your alertness.
Moderate anxiety is similar to mild anxiety but can become more severe and overwhelming, making you feel more nervous and agitated.
Moderate anxiety can mean you place your complete attention on the thing or situation that’s making you feel anxious and ignore everything else around you. You may start to experience stronger physical and emotional anxiety symptoms such as muscle tension, sweaty palms, a shaky voice, back pain and changes in your sleep pattern. Emotionally you may feel more sensitive and excited than normal, and you may also feel less confident.
Severe anxiety is the highest level, when you stop being able to think rationally and experience severe panic. You may feel afraid and confused, agitated, withdrawn and you may also find it difficult to think clearly. Your breathing may quicken and you may start to perspire while your muscles will feel very tense.
There are also several anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). Unlike being anxious about a specific thing or situation, GAD is when you feel anxious about lots of different issues, often for no good reason.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a specific type of anxiety, where you feel very stressed or fearful about something traumatic that’s happened to you, such as an accident or violent assault. Military personnel can experience PTSD after being in combat, for instance.
Panic disorder is when you have panic attacks on a regular basis. A panic attack can make you feel nauseated, sweaty, shaky and lightheaded, and you may feel your heart beating very quickly or irregularly (palpitations). They may not be harmful in a physical sense, but panic attacks can be very frightening.
Phobias are also a type of anxiety disorder. You may have a phobia when you have an overwhelming or exaggerated fear of something that normally shouldn’t be a problem. Depending on what type of phobia you have, it can seriously affect your daily life as well as cause a great deal of distress.
Social anxiety disorder – or social phobia – is a type of phobia where you have an intense fear of social situations.
If you think you may have the symptoms of an anxiety disorder or if anxiety is a constant in your life, it’s important to get the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. You can find out more about managing your mental health, including reducing anxiety, in our guides from mental health charity Mind.
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