Anxiety - A Complete Guide

What is anxiety? What are the signs of anxiety & how is it diagnosed? What causes anxiety & how do I get help/support if I need it? Find out more here.
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In the 21st century, anxiety is something that affects many and not without cause. The rising cost of living, holding down a job and relationship problems are but three, and ongoing world events have also contributed to the problem. The pandemic, for example, placed stresses and strains on people they never had to face before.

This article looks at anxiety, which impacts more people than you may realise. We also aim to provide lots of helpful advice on how you minimise the anxiety you may be dealing with for a happier, more balanced life.

The good news is that no matter how bad you might be feeling, there are ways that anxiety can be treated. With the right approach, there's absolutely no reason why you can't overcome the issue and reclaim a more robust, less anxious you.

The first thing we'll say at the outset is that if you're someone with anxiety, you shouldn't be too hard on yourself, as it can happen to anyone - and often does! It's way more prevalent than you think, and it can strike at any time. Recognising you have it is the first step, and it can also help you to notice when close friends and family are going through the same thing.

What Is Anxiety?

People feel anxiety in several different ways, with some experiencing a general feeling of unease and others having episodes of intense fear or phobia. Everyone sometimes feels nervous before a big job interview or worrying about paying your bills.

Having a little anxiety is a normal response to everyday life events, but when this unease becomes less controllable and starts to dominate and adversely affect a person's life, that's when someone can be said to have an anxiety disorder.

Are There Different Types of Anxiety?

As we mentioned a moment ago, anxiety can manifest in various ways, which is why many anxiety disorders exist.

They include:

Social anxiety disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Panic disorder
Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

While anxiety disorders are issues of the mind, they come with some very real physical symptoms - something you'll learn more about by reading on.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Anxiety?

The signs are usually easy to spot when you or someone else is experiencing anxiety. The symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Feeling tense, restless or nervous
  • Experiencing a foreboding of danger or doom
  • Feeling the need to avoid anxiety triggers
  • Becoming obsessed with specific problems
  • Suffering from gastrointestinal (GI) issues
  • Hyperventilation (Rapid breathing)
  • Feelings of tiredness or weakness
  • Having a raised heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Sweating

How Many People Are Affected by Anxiety?

Anxiety affects an estimated 264 million adults around the planet, according to a 2017 World Health Organisation report. Of this number, 179 million (63%) are women, with 105 million (37%) men. It's an issue that has become much more prevalent over the last 30 years.

Is There a Cure For Anxiety?

Unfortunately not, there are some methods you can use to alleviate and manage the problem. Human beings are incredibly complex, and someone's tendency for anxiety is determined by various factors, such as their environment, life experiences, family genetics and more.

Anxiety is essentially a part of the human condition, so it's not something that can ever be completely cured. That said, it is possible to stop anxiety from occurring when it's no longer a temporary state that passes when the trigger or stressor has gone.

How Is Anxiety Diagnosed?

When your state of anxiety stops becoming a temporary thing, it's likely time that you should go and see your GP for assistance. The symptoms mentioned previously should give you a good idea of the things that qualify, which may also affect your daily life, be it at work or in your social circle.

If you find that you're…

  • Getting upset or stressed in circumstances that didn't use to affect you
  • Tending to think the worst about every situation you encounter
  • Finding it tough to stop worrying all the time

…you should certainly consider seeking the help of a health professional. In terms of diagnosis, your GP will determine that you have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) after you've felt these symptoms continuously for at least 6 months. The other forms of anxiety (PTSD, OCD etc.) will have their own signs and symptoms and route for diagnosis.

What Are the Causes of Anxiety?

Due to the complex nature of the human mind, anxiety disorders can be caused by several different factors that include:

Recent Traumatic Events

When something traumatic happens in your life, such as a burglary, or physical/verbal attack, it can shock a person. As people try to come to terms with what they've been through, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can ensue.

Past Traumatic Events

While time can be a great healer, the impact of some life events can remain locked away for years and affect a person much later. Physical or mental abuse as a child is a common cause for adults to become affected by various anxiety disorders.

Uncomfortable or Triggering Situations

When phobias rear their head, such as agoraphobia, the fear of certain situations can lead to temporary but severe anxiety. This kind of ‘panic attack’ can cause a person to suffer from hyperventilation, sweating and heart palpitations.

From the outside, an anxiety attack like this can seem irrational, but to the sufferer, it can be very real, both physically and mentally.

Life Factors e.g. Exhaustion, Stress etc

Everyone leads busy lives these days, with more and more stressors in our regular routines. Work, raising a family, bills, world events and more can put severe pressure on a person’s state of mind,  leading to the development of an anxiety disorder.

Existentialism, Illness & Ageing

When someone reaches the twilight of their years or suffers from a serious illness, it can drastically change their perspective of the world. While they may have been quite balanced beforehand, this new situation can cause the individual to question their very existence.

This existentialism can be pretty overwhelming, with the mind being adversely affected. This can then manifest in several ways, including anxiety.

Medication or Drugs

Medication use or withdrawal can cause anxiety disorders, which also applies to drug misuse. These drugs are often used by people to control anxiety, but the after-effects of doing so can cause anxiety to worsen progressively.

Your anxiety could also be the result of the consumption of an everyday drug, like caffeine. The source of your trouble could be your morning cup of coffee each day.

Other Mental Health Disorders

Of course, anxiety disorders may not occur in isolation. Countless other mental health disorders, such as depression, bipolar, and paranoia, can be the cause. In these cases, treating the primary disorder is the correct way to deal with the associated anxiety.

Personality & Family History

Someone could have an anxiety disorder because their particular personality type makes them more susceptible to the condition. This may also be because the issue has been inherited or passed down from other family members with anxiety.

Treatment For Anxiety

Once you have a diagnosis, the correct course of treatment will be recommended by your GP or health professional. This can take a variety of different forms that include:

Casual Support Networks & Communities

The good news is that thanks to the internet, there's lots of help available to people with anxiety. Groups, support networks and communities offer hugely beneficial resources that often cost nothing.

For example, our service, My Black Dog provides help from people who have been through mental health issues themselves, so we know how you feel. We’ve walked the same path as you, so our team of volunteers have lots of experience and valuable advice to impart.

Group Therapy

Group therapy can be very beneficial for those happy to engage with others in a social setting. Again, people share their challenges and coping strategies with a single therapist who works with the whole group, guiding proceedings.

One-on-One Therapy

For others who get anxious in social groups, one-on-one therapy is a valuable alternative. Typically delving much deeper into a person's innermost thoughts, this dedicated therapy seeks to find the root causes and address them.


Counselling is another useful resource for people with anxiety disorders, focusing much on the present day and the introduction of coping mechanisms. Not much attention is paid to a person's past, but rather the challenges and situation they're in right now.


Sometimes, a person will be prescribed medications to control anxiety. However, they typically take the form of benzodiazepines (tranquilisers) like clonazepam and diazepam (Valium), which offer quick and effective relief.

It's important to know that these relaxants can be extremely addictive, so ideally, they’re only meant to be a temporary solution to the problem. As such, it’s important that you always talk to a trained healthcare professional before taking any medication like this.

Self-improvement & Coping Mechanisms

Learning how to cope with anxiety with services like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be effective, as they provide a mental health toolbox people can open up and help themselves. There are also a ton of self-help books and audiobooks out there to use.

Physical Health & Dietary Habits

The fitter and healthier you are, the less likely your body and mind will be sufficiently imbalanced enough to experience an anxiety disorder. This means getting plenty of sleep and having a diet full of healthy and nutritious food. As they say, you are what you eat, and rest plays a huge role in overall health.

Something as simple as a regular walk in the park can release hormones known as dopamine and serotonin while ridding you of any pent-up, nervous energy you might have.

How to Cope With a Panic (Anxiety) Attack

When you have a panic or anxiety attack, it can be terrifying - hence the name of the condition. However, if you find yourself in the middle of one, the surest way to get yourself out of the spiral is to stop and concentrate on your breathing.

Be conscious of your breathing, and…

  • Breathe as deeply and slowly as you can through your nose
  • Then breathe out deeply and slowly through your mouth

Some choose to keep their eyes closed to enhance their calm or count steadily from 1 to 5 to aid focus. Keep doing this, and you should naturally find yourself getting calmer after a few minutes. Also, don't be surprised if you feel tired after all that nervous energy you've expended.

Ice Cubes Can Help Too

Another great tip for calming yourself down is by triggering the body's vagus nerve, which signals to the brain that it's time to relax. This can be done with a simple ice pack, either held to the chest or in the hands or a single ice cube held against the roof of the mouth. It's a simple technique but one that works for many.

How to Stop an Anxiety Attack Coming On

When you've experienced an anxiety attack before, you notice the little signs that another may be on the way. It could be a slight restriction in your breathing, dizziness or even a fluttering in your chest. You get to recognise the symptoms, so when you do, the following may help you to stop it from developing into a full-blown attack:

  • Stop, close your eyes & control your breathing (when it's safe to do so). Breathe in deeply for 3 seconds, hold for 2 and then slowly let that breath go.
  • Distract your thoughts. Panic attacks can develop just because a person cannot focus on anything else. By refocusing on your phone or a chore at home, it’s possible to stop the cycle of panic in its tracks.
  • Use mantras to calm yourself, such as 'This is all in your mind' or 'This feeling is temporary’. It might feel silly talking to yourself, but it works.
  • Visualise a calm or happy place. Whatever works for you, this might be your dream beach holiday or walking through grass with bare feet.

The mind is extremely powerful, but when you're in control of it, anxiety cannot get a foothold. These techniques allow you to do that and can put you on the path to ridding yourself of the problem for good.

What Should You Say or Do to Help Someone Having an Anxiety Episode?

If you happen to see someone who you suspect might be having an anxiety attack, it's vital that you proceed with care, as you don't want to risk making the problem worse. They're likely to be very sensitive to movement and sound, so try and stay calm, approach slowly and speak softly.

Gently tell them that you think they might be having an anxiety attack and that you're there for them. Then, try and get them to follow the breathing techniques we mentioned previously, counting their breaths if necessary.

Breathing Into a Paper Bag Is Not a Good Idea

If they're in a public area, try to take them somewhere quieter to calm down - if possible. Interestingly, some people find that stamping on the spot helps them to control their breathing, so if nothing else works, it's another option you can use.

What you should never do - although it's still a common mistake people make - is get the person to breathe into a paper bag. The problem is that the person may also have asthma, and it's very dangerous for someone with the condition to use a paper bag in this way.

Anxiety - Getting Control of It & Your Life

Anxiety attacks can be frightening. So much so, that they can end up dominating your life and everything you do. It can feel like it's never going to change, no matter what you do, but the good news is that there ARE things you can do, and people overcome panic attacks all the time. It's all about truly knowing that you are in control.

At My Black Dog, we offer support to anyone experiencing anxiety, depression or any other kind of mental health issue that's causing you problems. Our team is not medically trained or full of licensed therapists - but what they are is experienced in similar problems that you might be facing, so they fully understand how to help.

To find out more about what we offer, please take a moment to visit us online today at If you need to speak to someone, simply tap on the speech box on the right-hand side of our homepage, which will quickly get you through to someone who can assist you. We’re open from 5pm to 10pm on weekdays, 10am to 3pm on Saturdays and 7pm to 10pm on Sundays.  

With our help, you can get back control of your life.