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Anxiety

Updated 04.04.2022
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Anxiety is a feeling when someone feels under threat or stress. It is a natural response to threats that has helped with the survival of humans across the ages, but in today’s world, it becomes a problem if it stops us from living our everyday life to the full and we can’t get things done. Anxiety can manifest as feeling worried, tense or panicked. Physical symptoms can develop, including a feeling the heart is beating hard or fast, sweating, shaking, dry mouth, feeling sick, breathing fast and a heaviness in the chest. These occur in response to your body releasing adrenaline when it perceives a threat. Everyone will experience this feeling at points in their life, but anxiety can also be problematic at times. If anxiety occurs without a reason, if it persists after the threat or stress is over, if the level of anxiety is out of proportion to the threat, or if it affects your day-to-day life, this might be reason to seek help. Anxiety disorder is an umbrella term for many related conditions. People are affected with anxiety in many different ways but some of the more well known or common anxiety disorder conditions include: - generalised anxiety disorder, which is near-constant anxiety about lots of different things in life - panic disorder, where regular panic attacks occur without a specific reason - social anxiety disorder, which is severe anxiety around social situations or the thought of social situations - post-traumatic stress disorder, where severe anxiety occurs after a traumatic event - obsessive compulsive disorder, known as OCD, where severe anxiety causes repetitive thoughts or actions - phobias, which is severe anxiety around a specific thing or situation

Doctor’s advice

How common is it?

Anxiety disorders are common with around 5% of the population suffering. They can also occur alongside other mental health conditions, and can sometimes precede a depressive episode. There is no exact cause for an anxiety disorder and anyone can suffer, but it’s more common in people who have gone through difficult or traumatic life events in the past, or who are currently facing or living in difficult life circumstances. It can also be more common if you have a relative with an anxiety disorder or if you are living with a medical condition or other mental health conditions. Some medications can cause anxiety as a side effect, and anxiety can be worsened by smoking or a high caffeine or alcohol intake or use of street or party drugs.

Next steps

Lifestyle changes can help with anxiety such as getting outdoors or doing regular exercise. Talking with someone you trust can also be helpful, and identifying triggers that lead to symptoms. Avoid anything that can make it worse such as drinking alcohol or smoking (including any cannabis use). You can find self-help or support groups online – it can help to know you’re not alone, and it might help to read about what has worked for others. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder you have, mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation can often help with anxiety, and ensuring rest and relaxation in your daily schedule.

When should I see my doctor?

You should book to see your doctor if you have severe or prolonged anxiety symptoms (lasting a month or more) or if it is affecting your day-to-day life. Sometimes anxiety can occur alongside depression – you should seek urgent medical attention if you have any thoughts to harm yourself by booking an urgent doctor's appointment, calling 111 or 999 if out of hours. The doctor will ask about your medical history and current symptoms. They may ask you questions from a screening questionnaire that can help with diagnosing an anxiety disorder. If the doctor feels it is necessary, they may also do some blood tests as some medical conditions can contribute to symptoms of anxiety. If your anxiety is mild the doctor may discuss any relevant lifestyle changes and then monitor how you progress. They may also refer you to talking therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which aims to help you learn about your thoughts, how they affect you, make you feel, and how to process and adapt those thoughts. The doctor or psychologist will keep an eye on how you are doing and whether these interventions are helping. If you have prolonged or severe anxiety the doctor may prescribe you a medication to help with symptoms, or recommend you see a clinical psychologist or mental health nurse who can help you explore the anxiety and methods to help control it. There are a variety of medications that can help with anxiety and the doctor will discuss the options with you.

Am I fit for work?

Your fitness to work will depend on the severity of your anxiety. The doctor will assess this with you.

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