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Understanding anxiety

Find out how to recognise anxiety, ways to manage it and what support is available

Anxiety is a way of describing the feelings we have when we’re tense, worried or afraid. We can all feel anxious at times and that’s not always a bad thing - feelings of anxiety can help us to respond to dangers and keep us motivated and alert. But there are occasions when people find it hard to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and anxiety begins to affects daily life.

What happens when we feel anxious?

Anxiety can trigger a flight or fight response, so we are ready to react to danger. The body goes to high alert and releases the hormones adrenalin and cortisol. These cause your heart to beat faster to pump blood to your arms and legs, so they can respond to danger. This is okay when our bodies need to run away or fight a threat, for example, if an aggressive person is shouting at us. However, anxiety can create surplus energy when a worrying thought passes through our minds, but there is no action to take at the time. This can result in physiological responses to anxiety such as difficulty breathing, feeling hot, dizzy, increased heart rate or digestion problems.

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