Anxiety is a normal emotion that we all experience but becomes a mental health problem when someone finds they are feeling this way all or most of the time.

You might think of anxiety as feeling stressed, tense, worried, uneasy or scared. Most of the time these emotions are not a problem. They are normal reactions to our everyday life and can actually help us to get things done on time or take extra care when we need to. 

When is anxiety a mental health problem?

Anxiety becomes a mental health problem when someone finds they are feeling anxious all or most of the time, to the extent that they are not able to do the things they would like to, or would normally do.

A doctor will diagnose someone with an anxiety disorder by asking them questions about how they think, feel and any physical symptoms they have. There are many different types of anxiety disorder, each with a different set of criteria. You can read about some of the different diagnoses on the Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites. 

Remember, a diagnosis is not a label. It is a tool to help professionals decide what types of treatment and support to offer. Diagnoses may change over the course of someone's lifetime. Some people with anxiety problems may never get a diagnosis. 

It explained the reason that I would shut down and sleep as a response to anything difficult in my life. It explained the random pains I experienced for over a year, which was actually a response to stress and loud noises - Robyn

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is when these feelings of anxiety become intense and overwhelming. The person will normally experience physical symptoms including shortness of breath, sweating, an increased heartbeat or blurry vision. A panic attack can be associated with a particular place, object or situation. Some people find the thought of having a panic attack itself a trigger.   

I remember being at work and suddenly feeling like the world looked different, people became blurry and I felt disorientated- it was terrifying - Claudia

How common are anxiety and panic attacks?

Anxiety problems are one some of the most common mental health problems. It is hard to say how common, as there are many different types of anxiety problem which people describe in different ways. Also, some people will never receive an official diagnosis.

However, it is estimated that in any given week:

  • Around 6 in every 100  of us will be experiencing Generalised Anxiety Disorder (a common type of anxiety problem).
  • 1 in about every 200 people will be experiencing a panic disorder.
  • 8 out of 100 people will be experiencing a mixture of anxiety and depression.  

What are some of the myths and misconceptions about anxiety and panic attacks?

For some people, talking about their anxiety is difficult because  friends, colleagues, parents, partners and siblings think  it is something you should be able to just 'snap out of ' or that it is a sign of being weak. These sorts of attitudes  can lead to people hiding how they feel and not asking for the support they need and deserve. This can ruin, and sometimes cost, people's lives.

Still till this day I have no support from my parents or family, their favourite phrases are "get a grip”, "man up” or “sort yourself out”...which make me feel ashamed and made me question if I really was ill - David

How do anxiety and panic attacks affect people's lives?

There are many different types of anxiety problems and disorders. Everyone will experience it in different ways, for different periods of time and about different things.

People who experience problems with anxiety often describe life in general becoming  exhausting, as the worry and fear associated with different situations takes so much energy to overcome. They can find it difficult to relax, sleep and eat. They might also avoid certain things, such as social situations, work or new and unfamiliar experiences.

A lot of people with anxiety problems will experience physical symptoms too, for example:

  • Aches and pains
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hair loss
  • Sweating
  • Feeling sick or dizzy
  • Blurry vision

I would avoid as many social situations and family events as much as possible because interacting with other people made me feel sick - Tashia

How can I help someone experiencing anxiety and panic attacks?

Learn about anxiety problems

There are lots of resources online which you can use to find out about anxiety and panic attacks. This may help you to understand what your friend or family member is going through and help you to feel more confident in offering support. Try starting with the Mind or Rethink Mental Illness websites.

Acknowledge how they feel

Feeling anxious about what others perceive as 'normal' can be extremely lonely. Many people worry that they will be seen as overly sensitive, dramatic or even that they are making it up, so they hide how they feel. Sadly, these worries can seem to be confirmed when faced with the misconceptions  some people hold about mental health problems.

 To know that someone is taking them seriously and that they are believed can be a big relief. 

Ask them how you can help

Everybody is different and there is no one way to help someone experiencing anxiety problems. If you want to support a loved one, one of the best things to do is ask them how.

Give them information about other types of support

Sometimes the support of friends and family is not enough. Letting them know about the support they can get from the NHS, private healthcare or organisations like Mind and Rethink Mental Illness can also be helpful.

 As well as treatment provided by medical professionals, such as psychological therapies and medication, community based support related to lifestyle, education or social activities can also help someone stay well. 

Remember you can’t force someone to get help. Repeatedly trying to do so before they are ready can actually do more harm than good.

If someone is at serious risk or danger to themselves or others, Mind or Rethink Mental Illness have information on what to do in an emergency. 

Personal stories about anxiety

We have 301 stories on anxiety