Looking after your mental health

What is anxiety?

On this page, we explain what anxiety is, what can cause it and when to seek help. You can also read more about symptoms of anxiety, ways to manage anxiety and ways anxiety can be treated.

On this page:

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 to a new house, having an interview or going into hospital.

Sometimes feeling anxious can be helpful, making us more alert and improving our performance. Anxious feelings usually go away but if they 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:

  • have a lung condition that affects your breathing and your ability to do the things you used to
  • be a natural worrier 
  • have experienced a distressing event in the past that makes you feel anxious
  • experience worry or anxiety about an insecurity you have
  • 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.

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.

When to seek help for anxiety

Although feelings of anxiety in certain situations is completely normal, you should see your GP or another health care professional, such as your practice nurse or respiratory nurse, if anxiety is affecting your daily life or is causing you distress. Support and treatment are available on the NHS. 

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