What creates anxiety?

Anxiety is experienced by everyone at some point in their lives. In most cases it is related to specific events such as; exams, job interviews, going into hospital, moving, marriage, divorce or even being diagnosed with an illness.

The feelings of fear and tension come from our bodies natural fight or flight instinct which exists to protect us from danger. When we feel under threat the body prepares, by releasing hormones, to either run away or fight the danger. Once the danger has passed the body then relaxes and the feelings of anxiety pass.

Anxiety becomes a problem when it is very severe, is long-lasting and has no obvious cause. It can affect all areas of your life, from work and hobbies to personal relationships. Anxiety affects everyone in different ways so it’s important to describe your particular symptoms and difficulties to one of our psychologists so that they can assess their severity and advise on the best treatment for you.

Anxiety has both physical and psychological effects. Some of the common symptoms are:


  • Racing heart/palpitations
  • Breathlessness
  • Sweating or hot flushes
  • Dizziness or feeling light-headed
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Nausea
  • Feeling light headed
  • Raised blood pressure
  • Panic attacks
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Needing the toilet more or less frequently
  • Tiredness/exhaustion


  • Feeling fearful, tense and on edge
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • Felling your mind is busy
  • Felling numb
  • A sense of dread
  • Feeling like other people can see you are anxious
  • Over thinking situations
  • Being overwhelmed/inability to cope

There are different types of anxiety disorder

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

GAD is a term usually used to describe long-standing anxiety which involves excessive worry about a number of topics. At times this worry can focus on one particular subject, but in the absence of this the person will usually worry about something else. Generalised Anxiety will usually involve both the physical and psychological symptoms, which will come on gradually and may build as the person’s worries spiral. Some of these worries may be based on practical difficulties, although often they will be hypothetical focusing on “what if…” This worry can become all-consuming and take up a lot of the person’s time and focus.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are overwhelming physical sensations caused by an exaggeration of your bodies normal response to fear. Sensations include:

  • Shaking (worrying you are losing control)
  • A pounding heartbeat (worrying you are having a heart attack)
  • Feeling faint (being afraid you may faint)
  • Sweating
  • Nausea (worrying about being sick)
  • Chest pains (being afraid you are going to die)
  • Feeling unable to breath

Panic attacks can happen at any time, day or night and can wake you up from sleep. They are particularly frightening at when they wake you up, as you may be confused about what is happening. They usually come on very suddenly and most last between 5 to 20 minutes, although they can occur one after another. As these symptoms are often scary, the person may then begin to avoid situations in which they think they may have a panic attack.

The main difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack is the interpretation of the physical symptoms. A panic attack will involve a catastrophic interpretation such as “I’m going to die”, “I’m having a heart attack” or “I’m going to faint”.

Panic attacks can happen at any time, day or night and can wake you up from sleep. They are particularly frightening at when they wake you up, as you may be confused about what is happening. They usually come on very suddenly and most last between 5 to 20 minutes, although they can occur one after another.

Panic disorder

Phobias, or an extreme fear of something which is not dangerous, involve a similar reaction to panic attacks which occurs in response to something e.g. a spider or enclosed spaces.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

OCD is a form of anxiety which leads to experiencing obsessions (unwelcome thoughts, images, urges or doubts which are repeating) and compulsions (repetitive activities you have to complete). If you would like more information about OCD click here.

Social anxiety (social phobia)

Social anxiety is anxiety which occurs specifically in relation to social situations. This could be during or in advance of events such as, public speaking or attending a social event. Specifically, social anxiety involves:

  • Worrying about meeting new people, starting conversations or speaking on the phone
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Worrying about being embarrassed, sweating or blushing or
  • Concerns about saying or doing something wrong
  • Disliking being watched
  • Fear of being judged by others
  • Avoiding conflict, fearing criticism and avoiding eye contact
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety
  • Replaying social situations after the event to “check” if you did anything wrong

Health Anxiety

Health Anxiety refers to anxiety specifically related to the individual’s physical or mental health. This can at times be triggered by the individual’s health or the health of someone close to them, however, it can also develop out of the blue. Health Anxiety may involve:

  • Excessive checking of body – looking for signs of illness
  • Usually specific concerns around cancer
  • Seeking reassurance from others
  • Checking symptoms online
  • Going to the GP often – not feeling long lasting reassurance from the doctor
  • Avoiding the GP
  • Avoiding reading or seeing anything to do with health

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is anxiety which occurs after experiencing or witnessing something traumatic. Specialist symptoms include; flashbacks, intrusive memories and hyper-vigilance. For more information about PTSD click here.

How does therapy help with anxiety?

NICE guidelines (2011) suggest that when identifying the most appropriate treatment option there are many factors to consider including; history, severity and the amount of time you have experienced these issues for and the presence of any other disorders (such as depression). Guidelines recommend that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), applied relaxation and potentially medication (in combination with therapy) are optimum treatments for moderate to severe anxiety, with lower intensity therapies being appropriate for milder difficulties.  

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) –CBT is a therapy concerned with the relationship between thoughts and behaviours which create and maintain anxiety. CBT for anxiety works by challenging the cognitions (thoughts) that you are having, which tend to be negative and learning to replace these negative thoughts with realistic thoughts, therefore reducing your level of anxiety. This in turn helps to reduce the unhelpful behaviours which are often developed to help cope with high levels of anxiety.

Counselling and Psychotherapy – This approach is most suitable when anxiety is mild or below the clinical threshold. There are different types of psychotherapy available. Psychotherapy aims to help you to understand your personal needs and how to improve your future wellbeing.

Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a practice which has Buddhist origins and has been around for thousands of years. It is state which is achieved by focusing in on the here and now, acknowledging thoughts, feelings and sensations but not attempting to get rid of them or judge them

Medication – therapy can be used instead of or in conjunction with medication. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication so you would need to consult a doctor or psychiatrist for this. We are then able to work alongside the prescribing physician providing a complimentary talking therapy.