Page medically reviewed by Dr Sheetal Sirohi (MBBS, MRCPsych), General Adult Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Woking, in February 2022.
How Common is Anxiety?
It’s entirely normal to feel worried and anxious from time-to-time, particularly in response to stressful events or situations in your life. However, if you’re finding that you’re worrying constantly and excessively, and your worry seems to be out of proportion to any threat posed by the situation, it may be that you’re struggling with a type of anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is a fairly common mental health condition. Statistics on anxiety show that nearly 7% of all people in England struggle with anxiety. Research also suggests that women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men. However, this might be because women are more likely to seek help and treatment for anxiety.
What Causes Anxiety?
There are a number of factors that are linked to anxiety and may increase your chances of developing this mental health condition.
Having a close relative who struggles with anxiety can increase the likelihood that you’ll also develop anxiety at some point in your life. This might be because of inherited genes or it could be down to the fact that you’ve been exposed to anxious behaviours and thoughts as you’re growing up, normalising them and leading to you inheriting them.
Childhood or other past experiences
Going through stressful or traumatic experiences can cause anxiety – this is especially the case if it occurred during childhood. Experiencing the following in the past can lead to anxiety problems:
- Being the victim of abuse and/or neglect
- The death of a parent
- Being bullied
Going through these difficult experiences as a child can prevent you developing effective coping skills for the future, meaning that you may be more prone to mental health conditions such as anxiety.
Physical or mental health problems
Other health problems can also be a trigger for anxiety.
- Existing mental health conditions – if you already struggle with a mental health condition, such as depression, this can make it more likely that you’ll go on to develop other mental illnesses, including anxiety
- Physical health problems – anxiety can be triggered or worsened by serious, chronic and life-threatening physical health conditions such as cancer
It’s also important to note that some prescribed medications can cause anxiety as one of their side effects. These include medications used to treat:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Thyroid problems
- Parkinson’s Disease
Also, medication that contains caffeine can make you feel on edge and jittery. If you’re prone to anxiety, these medications can make your anxiety worse. These can include things like headache and migraine medication.
Current events or situations in your life
Current problems or situations going on in your life can also trigger anxiety. These can include things like:
- Going through lots of change, upheaval and uncertainty
- Stress – whether this is at work, home, or in your relationship
- Studying and exams
- Losing your job and unemployment
- Financial worries
- Housing problems and homelessness
- Losing someone close to you
- Being bullied
- Worrying about current world events e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change
Priory therapist Niamh Maguire explores everything you need to know about anxiety, from the symptoms and causes to the most effective treatments.
Drug or alcohol use
Drinking or using illicit substances can also trigger anxiety or make any existing anxiety worse. These substances often cause 'hangxiety', which can have a big impact on your mood, making you feel low and on edge.
A diet that is too high in sugar and caffeine can also exacerbate anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, it’s a good idea to try and limit your sugar and caffeine intake.
Can Anxiety be Prevented?
While you can’t outright prevent developing an anxiety disorder, there are a number of strategies you can use to help you cope with anxiety and manage your anxiety symptoms.
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. This causes the release of adrenaline and an increase in heart rate. These are designed to help you be stronger (fight) or move faster (flight).
Simply breathing in and exhaling, slowly and deeply, can help the body settle down to a more natural, resting state. This, in turn, can help to calm your feelings of anxiety and worry.
Challenge your thoughts
Our minds can play tricks on us when we’re anxious, which means our thinking can become negative 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 you have offended them.
Before you accept these conclusions, ask yourself whether your anxious thought is a ‘fact’ or an ‘opinion’. If it’s an opinion, you may be getting anxious for nothing.
Test out your negative assumptions
When we get anxious about things, we’re often making an unfounded prediction about what will happen. For example, you may think 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 you are constantly making these negative predictions, try and test it out. It’s likely that you will find your prediction was wrong and there was nothing to worry about in the first place.
Don’t avoid your anxiety
Anxiety can be uncomfortable and unpleasant which means that many people fall into the trap of avoiding the thing or situation they fear so 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.
By avoiding these situations, you’re not dealing with the anxiety itself. This means that it can become worse and you find that you have to avoid more and more situations. By facing your fears, your body will gradually adjust to the thing you’re worried about, which can help to reduce your anxiety.
Get Help for your Anxiety
While there are things you can do to help you manage your anxiety, it’s important to remember that it can be a serious mental health condition that can have a negative effect on lots of different areas of your life. It may be that you need some professional support.
The good news is that anxiety is very treatable and it’s possible for you to make a full recovery. At Priory, our experts are dedicated to supporting you every step of the way towards overcoming your anxiety and getting back on track. We provide evidence-based methods and world-class treatment, helping you to return to the healthy and fulfilling life you deserve.
Remember, reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness – it can be the first step on your journey to recovery and wellbeing. Use the information below to reach out to Priory for world-class treatment for mental health and start your recovery journey today.
Call our Enquiry Line
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