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What are the signs and symptoms of anxiety?

At Priory, we understand that anxiety can be very difficult to cope with and can often make even the smallest of tasks seem impossible, which can sometimes prevent people from seeking the expert anxiety treatment and help that they need.

Anxiety symptoms can vary from person to person, and depending on the type of anxiety that you are suffering from. The symptoms that are associated with anxiety can be categorised into psychological, physical and behavioural/social symptoms, with some of the most common including:

Psychological symptoms of anxiety:

Common anxiety symptoms can include:

  • A persistent sense of worry, apprehension, or dread – you may find that you are constantly worrying about something negative happening which can prevent you from enjoying your everyday life
  • Feelings of hopelessness – feeling trapped and unable to find a ‘way out’
  • Anger, irritability and impatience – finding that you are becoming angry for no apparent reason and taking this out on those who are closest to you
  • Feeling fearful, paranoid and tense
  • Mood swings
  • Extreme stress
  • Drugs and alcohol abuse as a way of self-medicating to help you to manage and cope with your anxiety symptoms. Substance abuse may lead to a harmful addiction which can hinder your recovery and lead to further problems
  • Feeling tearful and emotionally tired – finding that you are crying more than usual and become emotional for no apparent reason
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low self-esteem
  • Having fears or worries that seem to be disproportionate to the situation
  • Feeling as though you can’t stop worrying
  • Worrying that you are ‘going crazy’

Physical symptoms of anxiety:

Physical anxiety symptoms can often include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Feeling faint, dizzy or light-headed
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increased heartbeat or palpitations
  • Tightness of the chest
  • Dry mouth
  • Blurred vision
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Loose bowels and frequent urination
  • Muscle tension and tiredness
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Panic attacks (also known as anxiety attacks) – these occur as a form of release or physical reaction to anxiety, and can be extremely frightening
  • Appetite changes – either increased or reduced appetite which may also result in weight fluctuations
  • Sleep disturbances – experiencing reduced sleep because you are unable to ‘switch off’ from your anxiety, or finding that you are sleeping long hours and struggle to get out of bed

Behavioural/social symptoms of anxiety:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation – not wanting to meet with family and friends, in order to avoid stressful situations that may exacerbate your anxiety, or answer questions about your anxiety and worry
  • Reduced school or work performance as a result of decreased concentration and taking time off sick
  • Inability to manage day-to-day tasks effectively

Self-help tips for dealing with anxiety symptoms

Below are some tips that you can use, to help you to better manage and cope with your anxiety:

Breathe deeply

When we get anxious the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response is activated, which is our body’s way of protecting us in threatening situations. The fight or flight response causes a series of changes in the body including the release of adrenaline and an increase in heart rate which are designed to help you be stronger (fight) or help you move faster (flight). Simply breathing in and exhaling, slowly and deeply, can help the body settle down to a more natural, resting state, and reduce your feelings of anxiety and apprehension

Challenge your thoughts

Our minds can play tricks on us when we are anxious, and as a result, our thinking can become negative, dysfunctional and distorted. For example, an abrupt email from your boss may lead you to think that you have made a mistake at work, or a friend failing to respond to a message may make you believe that you have offended them and that they are not talking to you. However, before you accept these initial conclusions, which may exacerbate your anxiety, ask yourself whether your anxious thought a ‘fact’ or an ‘opinion’. If it is an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing

Test out your negative assumptions

When we get anxious about things, we are often making a negative and unfounded prediction about what will happen. For example, you may think that you can’t go to a party on your own because no-one will talk to you and you will end up looking stupid. If you find that you are constantly making these negative predictions, try and test it out. It is likely that you will find that your prediction was wrong and there was nothing to worry about in the first place

Don’t fall into the avoidance trap

Anxiety is an uncomfortable and unpleasant emotion and many people fall into the trap of avoiding the thing or situation that they fear so that they don’t experience the anxiety. For example, you may avoid driving on a motorway because you are worried about being hit by a lorry, or you may fear going out with friends in case you end up making a fool of yourself in some way.

However, by avoiding these situations, you are not dealing with the anxiety itself which means that this can become progressively worse and you are find that you have to avoid more and more situations. By facing your fears and anxieties, your body will gradually adjust to the thing that you’re worried about which can help to reduce your anxiety.

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Ed Burns (MBChB, MRCPsych, MSc) in May 2018, and is scheduled to be reviewed again in May 2020. To view all Priory anxiety specialists, please click here.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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