For a second, imagine you’re a caveman. You’ve been out hunting, and you’ve killed a nice big deer that will feed your family for days. It’s getting dark, and you’re dragging it back to your cave, where you can see the warm glow of a fire inside. All around you the trees are rustling, bushes are moving, and animals are calling into the dusk. If something attacked you right now, it would be difficult to defend yourself. So you’re constantly looking around, eyes darting every which way. Your heart is beating faster, your body is full of adrenaline, ready to leap into action if you see a threat. When you hear a rustle in the bush right next to you, you reflexively thrust your spear towards the noise.

That’s what anxiety is.

Of course, that’s an example of the kind of anxiety our ancestors experienced every single day in the struggle to survive. But in more modern times, where needing to survive an animal attack is rare, the way we experience anxiety has changed.

At its core, anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress. It’s the feeling of fear and apprehension of what’s to come. While our ancestors felt that fear about predators in the bushes, we feel it on the first day of school, as we walk into a job interview, or if we have to give a speech to a big crowd. Most people will experience some form of anxiety at some point in their lives. But when those feelings of anxiety are extreme, last longer than six months, or are interfering with your life, then you might have an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is one of the more common mental health struggles faced by the population. Around 18% of people in the UK suffer from anxiety, and it can affect anyone at any age or any time. Anxiety is also the main symptom of several other conditions, which are grouped together under the banner of ‘anxiety disorders.’ These include:

  • Panic Disorder: Where you experience recurring panic attacks at unexpected times. This can be so bad that you live in fear of when the next panic attack will happen.
  • Phobia: Excessive fear of a specific object, situation or activity.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Extreme fear of being judged by others in social situations.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Recurring irrational thoughts that lead you to perform specific, repeated behaviours.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: Fear of being away from home or loved ones.
  • Illness Anxiety Disorder: Anxiety about your health (this used to be called hypochondria).
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Or PTSD – anxiety following a traumatic event or abuse.

Anxiety comes in all shapes and sizes, but all of them have one thing in common – they make you feel fearful, apprehensive, and can interfere significantly in your life if left untreated.

How Does it Feel? 

The thing about anxiety is, it feels different depending on the person experiencing it. The feelings caused can range from butterflies in your stomach to a racing heart and difficulty breathing. You might feel out of control, like there is a disconnect between your mind and body, or that you physically can’t do something that should be quite simple. Other people might experience nightmares, panic attacks, or relive painful memories and thoughts that you have no control over. You might have a general feeling of fear or a worry that you can’t put your finger on, or you might have a very specific fear of a place or event.

A few signs you might have anxiety include:

· Excessive worrying

· Feeling agitated

· Restlessness

· Fatigue

· Dizziness

· Rapid heartbeat

· Difficulty concentrating

· Irritability

· Tense Muscles

· Rapid breathing

· Trouble falling or staying asleep

· Panic attacks

· Avoiding social situations

· Irrational fears

But remember, your anxiety symptoms might be totally different to someone else’s. That doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety – it just means your anxiety is different, and the support systems and tools you use to manage it may look different as well.

What Causes Anxiety? 

his is one of the most difficult parts of anxiety, because the truth is the exact cause of anxiety disorders isn’t really understood yet! There are so many factors at play, alongside the wiring of the primitive brain. There are a few things that can contribute to someone developing anxiety, including:

  • Overactivity in areas of the brain involved in emotions and behaviour.
  • An imbalance of serotonin and noradrenaline – the chemicals involved in the control and regulation of mood.
  • The genes inherited from your parents – you’re estimated to be 5 times more likely to develop anxiety if you have a close relative with the condition.
  • Having a history of stressful or traumatic experiences, such as domestic violence, child abuse or bullying.
  • Having a painful long-term health condition, like arthritis.
  • Having a history of drug or alcohol misuse.

The good news is, anxiety is a very normal thing to feel, and most people experience it at some point, or multiple points in their life. But if you feel that your anxiety is starting to interfere with your daily life, then there are things you can do to improve it. For lots of tools and techniques to use to help you with these feelings go to the ‘Anxiety’ section in our Melp app.