What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a vital emotion, warning us of possible future risks or problems. It keeps us from making bad decisions or judgements.  However, it is also the emotion most commonly linked with emotional and mental health problems. Anxiety can flare up very quickly but understanding it better is often the key to overcoming problems.   Think of it as a bit like a smoke alarm. It is the system your brain uses to warn you that something significant may be about to happen. But sometimes it becomes too sensitive and is triggered too often.

Scroll down the page for some anxiety links to other resources on this website.

You might experience:
-- Physical symptoms.  This is your brain’s way of making sure it gets your attention.  Dramatic changes are triggered in your body, all to prepare you physically in case you need to act. These physical symptoms are your first warning that your anxiety system is about to go into overdrive. 
-- Brain symptoms:  These are designed to make sure that you focus your attention on anything around you that is likely to be a risk, and that you are able to think quickly and intensively in case you need to make any quick decisions. 

What causes anxiety?


Anxiety is part of the system of healthy emotions that are central to the way the brain keeps track of the world around us. No one is totally anxiety free, but but can become problematic when it is triggered too often, or is too strong. Some people are more prone to anxiety in the first place: highly driven people, or those who struggle with issues such as self confidence etc. Anxiety can also rise up very quickly in response to stress.

Sometimes anxiety can seem to come from nowhere - and in these situations understanding what is triggering it can be a key part of recovery.If you are struggling with anxiety, there may be specific triggers (for example in phobias) or a general heightened sense of feeling anxious. Some people feel they are never totally relaxed and may find it impossible to control their anxiety or worrying. Many suffer panic attacks: moments when anxiety triggers powerful physical symptoms such as sweating, chest pain or dizziness, which in turn lead to a fear that something serious may be wrong (such as a heart attack) or that something undesirable might happen (eg fainting or being sick).  This triggers more anxiety, making the physical symptoms worse.  Panic attacks strike quickly, sometimes out of the blue, and grow fast.

Can it be treated?


Anxiety disorders are best treated with a combination of approaches which address the different aspects of anxiety: the thought patterns, which respond very well to cognitive behaviour therapy, an approach which looks at how your thinking can influence and trigger emotions, and the physical symptoms, which can be controlled and limited by learning relaxation techniques.

Treatments can be effective if they reduce general stress levels: approaches which help relax or de-stress can be effective as part of a combination of treatments.

Drug treatment can also be helpful in treating anxiety. Some anti-depressants can help, particularly if the anxiety is triggering obsessional (round and round) thoughts, or making it hard to concentrate or function normally. Other treatments can help to limit and control physical symptoms, especially in circumstances where these might be problematic - e.g. exams or public speaking.

What about my faith?


Faith can be a big support for those struggling with anxiety, because it gives a bigger perspective and reminds us that God is in control. It encourages us to simplify our life and remember what really matters.

Practices that form part of the faith-filled life can also be very helpful for learning to overcome anxiety. Times of prayer and meditation, and skills earned alongside approaches such as mindfulness can help calm nerves, focus the mind and limit panic or waves of anxiety.


1. If you want to learn more about your emotions, how they work and when and why they can cause problems this talk may be helpful
2. First steps out of anxiety is a small, easy to read book which explains what anxiety is, how it affects you and how to get on the road to recovery.You can read a chapter free here
3. Don’t know how to stop worrying? The Worry Book addresses how to deal with persistent worries - which often accompany anxiety problems.
4. For more on recovery from anxiety check out  My Anxiety Recovery and This Super-Anxious Life
5. Are you a church leader - see this sermon on anxiety that you are free to use - transcript, audio

Kate Middleton, 26/11/2014
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