Dealing with your mental health

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a word we use to describe our feelings of unease, worry and fear.

Everyone experiences anxiety at some time. It’s a normal reaction to something we think is a threat or danger to us. We might feel tense, nervous or fearful in difficult situations, like taking an exam, moving house, having an interview or going into hospital.

These feelings usually go away. And – sometimes - feeling anxious can be helpful, making us more alert and improving our performance. But if these anxious feelings are very strong, or last for a long time, they can be overwhelming.

What causes anxiety?

Lots of things can cause anxiety, and anxiety affects different people in different ways. You may:

  • be a natural worrier
  • have experienced a distressing event in the past that makes you feel anxious and insecure
  • have faced bereavement, redundancy or divorce
  • feel stressed at home or work

Your physical health can also impact your mental wellbeing, especially if you are living with a long-term condition. You might get anxious if you don’t feel in control of your condition. A stressful event like becoming breathless, having a chest infection or a stay in hospital might make you worry too.

I’m anxious about being infected and what that means for me. If someone sneezes near me, or coughs, I flinch and become anxious of what that means if I get an infection - potentially hospital or another housebound period or both. If someone smokes my breath is taken away and my lungs close up so I am anxious when I see smokers on the streets.

Julie

Living with a long-term lung condition can give you symptoms that make you feel anxious. Sometimes, symptoms like tightness in your chest or getting very tired easily are similar to feelings of anxiety.

A recurrent anxiety situation for me: coming out of a warm environment to face cold weather and sudden extreme breathlessness to the point of wondering how I will be able to get home…The shock is akin to respiratory arrest - frightening to a point which does not correlate with severity of lung disease.

Fran

Sometimes you might not know why you feel anxious at all, and there may no clear reason. If you don’t understand why you’re anxious, you can get in a downward spiral. You get anxious about feeling anxious, and so get even more anxious.

Next: What are the symptoms of anxiety? >

Download our mental health information (354KB, PDF)

Last medically reviewed: March 2018. Due for review: March 2021

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.