What is anxiety?

Evolution has programmed us to look out for threats and risks. When our brain identifies a threat, it alerts us to the danger, by causing us to feel anxious. Obviously this has a survival value. People who don’t notice threats are unlikely to survive long in our world.

The problem arises if the brain causes us to feel anxious when the threat is minimal, or perhaps doesn’t exist at all, or when being anxious becomes a problem in itself, rather than helping with the solution.

Being anxious, which can also be called worrying, or being fearful, or being tense, or feeling stressed can show up in many different ways (see types of anxiety below). The main general point that can be made about anxiety is that it is a signal from our mind/body system that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. Ongoing anxiety not only undermines our general sense of well-being, it can also lead to health problems.

Resolving anxiety

Often just labelling the condition as anxiety makes a difference. When we label something we begin to detach from it, and perhaps to feel that we have a certain control, and the possibility to change what is happening.

Just as there are many different types of anxiety, there are also many different ways of working with anxiety. It depends partly on the type of anxiety being considered, and also on the person who has the anxiety. People vary a lot. An approach which would enable one person to manage their anxiety, might not work all that well for someone else. The job of the therapist is to find a way to help the client resolve their anxiety as quickly and as easily as possible.

Types of anxiety

These include, but are not limited to:

Panic attacks

These occur when a person experiences intense anxiety where there is no apparent threat. They may be triggered by particular places, situations, the presence of certain people, or the individual experiencing the panic attacks may not be able to identify what the trigger is.

Symptoms of a panic attack can include: rapid heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, hyperventilation, chills, hot flushes, nausea, abdominal cramping, chest pain, headache, dizziness, faintness, tightness in the throat, trouble swallowing, tingling in the hands or feet. People may even think that they are dying. Typically the panic attack will end after a relatively short period of time.


A phobia is a persistent, extreme, irrational fear of a specific object or situation. The website lists 530+ different phobias. Phobias include fear of spiders, mice, water, open spaces, closed spaces, crowds …… Usually phobias are not difficult to resolve.

Performance anxiety

This occurs when an individual starts to feel fearful about the challenges that they are facing to the point where their performance is undermined or totally inhibited. For example, they might feel anxious about speaking in front of a group, taking a penalty kick, doing an exam, taking the driving test, meeting a particular individual, asking someone for a date, performing in public …..

Public Speaking

One of the most common fears is speaking in public, or in front of groups, or in some cases speaking to  a particular individual.  In many cases, issues like these can be resolved fairly easily.

Generalised anxiety

Generalised anxiety occurs when an individual feel anxious most of the time, even though there is no reason for being anxious. This can have an extremely detrimental effect on the individual’s well-being.

OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)

Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges that trigger intensely distressing feelings. Compulsions are behaviours an individual engages in to attempt to get rid of the obsessions and/or decrease his or her distress.

Most people have obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviours at some point in their life. These only become OCD when they take up a lot of individual’s time, and become a problem preventing them from leading a normal life. One way of looking at it is that the mind gets caught in a groove, repeating the same meaningless thoughts over and over again, leading to the frequent repetition of pointless or even harmful actions.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Most people recover naturally from traumatic experiences, given a little bit of time. A minority of individuals experience PTSD. Typical symptoms include: difficulty sleeping, nightmares, flashbacks, feeling numb or detached from everyday life, feeling constantly on guard or threatened, finding it difficult to settle down in normal life.


When people are overloaded mentally, physically or emotionally this can lead to anxiety. This can be caused by too much work to do or getting involved in too many activities or over thinking things or trying to do too much to quickly. It becomes a problem if people lose the ability to relax, or if it interferes with their everyday life.


It has been said that perfectionism is the cure for happiness. Certainly, if someone is continually seeking to obtain very high, or unreachable standards, there is plenty of scope for anxiety.