What is anxiety?
Anxiety and fear are a natural physiological and psychological response to threatening situations, and are designed to keep us safe. Anxiety can become problematic if its intensity is out of proportion to the level of threat we are experiencing, especially if this persists long-term, interfering with our work, family and social life. Some of the common types of anxiety problems are described below. Please note that this information is not intended for self-diagnosis - if you think you are suffering with one of these problems, please seek the advice of your medical practitioner.
Generalised anxiety (chronic worry) is a condition where you find it difficult or almost impossible to stop worrying. You may worry about many difficult topics, with your mind being over-active - you make mental lists, try to problem solve, run "disaster movies" in your head, imagining worst case scenarios, and are plagued by constant "what ifs". You are likely to be unable to relax, have difficulty sleeping, be irritable, and feel tired and overwhelmed. You might use alcohol, food or TV to try to switch off from your thoughts, but the relief is only temporary.
Panic is said to occur when you experience periods of intense anxiety (panic attacks), typically coming "out of the blue", often accompanied by palpitations, sweating, breathlessness, shaking and other unpleasant symptoms. Frequently there is a fear of something terrible happening (e.g. of dying, suffocating or having a heart attack), and an urge to escape to a safe place. You may have tried to use a number of coping strategies (e.g. carrying medication, not going out on your own, using breathing techniques) to make yourself feel safer, but this only works short-term and anxiety returns.
Agoraphobia typically occurs as a result of panic attacks or other intensely anxious states, where the sufferer avoids any places or situations where they experienced panic previously, or where they fear these may occur - e.g. public places, supermarkets, public transport. This may result in a severe restriction of movement and activities, and is likely to affect both social and working life.
Social anxiety (social phobia) can be seen as an extreme form of shyness, where we experience intense fear of appearing stupid, awkward or "weird" to others (this could be with groups, individuals or with people in authority). You might go to great lengths in trying to conceal your anxiety - by avoiding social situations, rehearsing things you are going to say, avoiding being centre of attention, rarely speaking up, dressing in nondescript clothing, using scarves or hair to cover your face (in case you blush!). You may use alcohol or drugs to feel more confident when with other people.
Health anxiety is a fear of illness that goes beyond the rational concerns about health; the sufferer may be super-sensitive to minor physical symptoms, and interpret them as a life-threatening illness. You may spend a lot of time researching health-related information on the internet, visit your doctor frequently, and regularly ask your friends and family for reassurance - they may call you "hypochondriac" - but to you any symptoms you notice feel frightening and real.
Appointments are available at my clinics in Glossop, High Peak (Derbyshire) or in Mossley (Lancashire) - both venues are around 30 minutes drive or a train ride from the centre of Manchester. Online and telephone consultations may be available subject to suitability - please enquire.
Sources of information and support
NO PANIC (National Organisation For Phobias, Anxiety, Neuroses, Information & Care)
93 Brands Farm Way, Randlay, Telford, Shropshire TF3 2JQ
Helpline: 0808 808 0545
Triumph Over Phobia (TOP UK)
PO Box 3760, Bath, BA2 3WY, Tel: 0845 600 9601. Runs a national network of structured, self-help groups for adults (16+) suffering from phobias.
First Steps to Freedom
1 Taylor Close, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, CV8 2LW
Helpline: 0845 120 2916
For people with general anxiety, phobias, obsessional compulsive disorder, panic attacks, and those who wish to come off tranquillisers. Services include: telephone self-help groups, leaflets, booklets, videos, audio tapes.
Self help resources
Centre for Clinical Interventions (Australia) - free CBT-based resources for generalised anxiety (worry), social anxiety, panic disorder as well as other mental health problems
Living Life to the Full - free CBT resources for anxiety and depression
EFT Universe - main EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) website includes numerous of articles and case studies on anxiety and a free manual and other resources for self-help
Uncommon Forum - a forum on psychological and self-help issues, including a popular thread on Anxiety & Panic Attacks
If you buy any of the books through the links below it will result in me receiving a small commission from Amazon. This will help towards funding discounted treatment for people who cannot afford to pay the full fee.