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The London Psychiatry Centre / Blog  / What Are 5 Symptoms Of Anxiety?
What Are 5 Symptoms Of Anxiety?

What Are 5 Symptoms Of Anxiety?

Anxiety is a mental and physical response to unfamiliar or stressful situations. Everyone experiences anxiety differently. Anxiety triggers (the thing that causes an anxious response) vary from person to person and they may respond to these triggers in different ways.

However, there are symptoms of anxiety that may be common amongst those who suffer with it. These include physical symptoms – such as palpitations, pins and needles, restlessness and nausea – and mental symptoms – such as feeling tense, having a sense of dread, dissociating (disconnecting from the world around you) and needing to seek reassurance from others.

Dr Christos Kouimtsidis, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre explains: “In many cases, it is possible to learn your triggers for anxiety and how you respond to them. While it might seem worrying or even frightening at first when anxiety hits and you experience a physical or mental symptom for the first time, you may be able to connect the trigger and response the next time they occur. When you are able to identify your triggers and responses, you can learn how to deal with them in future.

“It’s not always apparent when you only have your own experiences to go by, which is why it can be helpful to share your experiences with a trusted friend or family member, or a mental health professional, to help you better understand why they occurred. If symptoms persist it is important to seek advice from a mental health professional as anxiety symptoms could be associated with other mental health disorders, which might need treatment.”

In this article, in anticipation of Mental Health Awareness Week, we cover five common symptoms of anxiety and suggest ways in which you can deal with them.

5 Symptoms Of Anxiety And How To Deal With Them

Feeling tense or nervous
It’s normal to feel a little tense or nervous if you are going into a stressful or unfamiliar situation, such as a job interview or a medical appointment. This is called ‘anticipatory anxiety’. However, if you are experiencing these feelings to the point where you avoid the situation entirely (for example, turning down the interview or cancelling the appointment), you might try to implement a coping technique, otherwise you risk missing out on opportunities and ignoring responsibilities, and this may be even more detrimental to your mental health in the long run.

Firstly, it can help to prepare yourself for the situation, if you have the time. This could mean practising potential scenarios and how you might react to them; rehearsing interactions in the mirror or with another person; and researching the situation or environment so that you have a good idea of what you’re entering into. Avoid leaving any preparation until the last minute by putting aside enough time well before the event.

Secondly, if you begin to feel tense or nervous in the lead up to the situation, practise visualisation techniques. For example:

  • Picture yourself in a place that makes you feel happy and relaxed. Note the things you feel, see, hear and smell.
  • Say affirmations in your head. These are positive words and phrases that help you feel better about yourself. This could be telling yourself that you are brave, strong, confident, happy – whatever you feel that you need to be told at the time. The point is to recite these words and phrases until you feel you believe them.
  • Use guided meditation (there are plenty of podcasts and YouTube videos that feature guided meditations for you to follow) to help you meditate by visualising a place or journey that feels positive and relaxing.

Some people become tense or nervous at the thought of something happening, even though it is unlikely to happen. This could be anything from worrying about yourself or a loved one getting hurt or dying, to believing that war may break out at any moment. These are sometimes called irrational thoughts, fears or worries, and they can be difficult to anticipate. However, you can still use the above visualisation techniques to help you overcome them.

Racing heart or fast breathing
A racing heart and fast breathing are physical symptoms of anxiety. They may sometimes precede a panic attack, or they can occur on their own. Your breathing and heart rate are linked, so if you find yourself experiencing either of these symptoms, try your best to slow down your breathing, as this is the only symptom out of the two that you can directly control.

Try using breathwork exercises. For example, take a long, controlled breath in while slowly counting to four, then do the same on the outward breath while counting to six. Repeat this until you have fully controlled your breathing and your pulse has slowed to a normal rate.

Sleep problems
Anxiety can often cause sleep problems, and this is usually linked to other symptoms such as rumination (constantly going over worrying issues in one’s mind), headaches and nausea, restlessness, and tense and nervous feelings.

One technique for falling asleep quickly (often called the ‘military method’, although it is difficult to verify whether this method is used by real military personnel) is to conduct a ‘body scan’. This means mentally scanning each part of your body, from your forehead to your toes, and tensing, then relaxing it. This helps to distract from anxieties, and most people find that they drift off to sleep before they finish their scan. However, if you are still struggling to sleep, try going through the scan multiple times.

You could also try optimising your sleeping environment by removing any digital distractions such as your phone; ensuring the room is a cool temperature; and closing windows if you live in a busy area to reduce noise pollution.

Dissociation occurs when you feel like you’re ‘losing touch’ with the world around you. The world may feel like it’s speeding up or slowing down; you might feel detached from your body; or things around you may feel ‘unreal’.

It can be difficult to identify when dissociation is occurring, so the best way to deal with it is to prepare yourself in anticipation of dissociation. You could try a particular grounding technique where you keep something familiar and unique close by, and touch it when you feel as if you may be dissociating. This item could be an unusual key chain, a piece of jewellery, an item of clothing, or something else that feels comforting to you.

You could also try writing calming notes for yourself and leaving them around your house, or using your phone to message or call a friend who can help you stay grounded.

Panic attacks
Panic attacks are sudden, intense bouts of anxiety associated with fear of death or losing control that can be distinguished by symptoms such as:

  • Feelings of panic
  • Fast breathing
  • Racing heart
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Dizziness and disorientation
  • Nausea

A panic attack can be frightening for yourself and those around you, and the symptoms can feel and look very similar to those of a heart attack. However, panic attacks do eventually pass, usually within a few minutes and they rarely cause physical harm. It is important to observe the resolution of the panic attack and identify it as such.

When undergoing a panic attack, try to focus on your surroundings in order to stay grounded. You may wish to note the colours that you can see in the room around you; read writing on signs or paperwork; or try to focus on what you can hear.

If you can, sit down in a chair or on the floor, and have something supporting your back. Some people like to breathe into a paper bag to help slow their breathing, but some advise against this as it could worsen hyperventilation. Instead, try breathwork exercises without anything covering your face.

If you suffer from panic attacks, it may be a good idea to let those around you know (such as colleagues or friends) so that they can reassure and care for you if you are having one in future.

Anxiety Disorders – When Does Anxiety Become A Problem?

Most people will experience anxiety at some point in their lives. However, if you experience symptoms of anxiety regularly, and they interfere with your daily life, you may have an anxiety disorder.

What is an anxiety disorder?
Anxiety disorders are long term conditions defined by regular periods of anxiety. This anxiety may be difficult to control or relieve through coping exercises, and can deeply impact mental and even physical wellbeing.

There are several different types of anxiety disorder, including generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and phobias. You can find out more about these here.

If you are struggling to find a way to relieve your anxiety, it is recommended that you talk to your GP or a mental health professional in order to find a treatment that will help you improve your wellbeing. Treatments for anxiety disorders include talking therapy, medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), or the state of the art repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, although any treatment will be tailored to your specific diagnosis, lifestyle and mental health history.

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