What is anxiety?

Anxiety is what you feel if you’re worried, afraid or tense – particularly about things that are about to happen, or things you think might happen in the future. It is something that everyone experiences at some point in their life.

At Boots, we are here to help you understand anxiety.

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Mental health crisis support :

  • Get advice by calling 111 or using 111 online.
  • Ask your GP for an urgent appointment, a GP can advise you about helpful treatments and also help you access mental health services.

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Anxiety can cause many different symptoms which can affect how you feel, mentally, physically and how you behave. Anxiety is how your body naturally responds to stress or danger and is usually temporary, but for some people, these feelings of anxiousness, worry and fear don’t shift. Their feelings of anxiety can be more constant and can often have an impact on their everyday lives. This is called an anxiety disorder.


- Sweating

- Breathlessness

- Feeling hot

- Shaking

- Chest pains

- A faster, irregular or more noticeable heartbeat

- Feeling dizzy and lightheaded

- Having a headache
- Having a reduced appetite or a loss of appetite


- Feeling tense or nervous

- Not being able to relax

- Feeling tearful

- Struggling with sleep

- Having obsessive thoughts

- Having trouble concentrating

- Fearing the worst happening to you

- Having intrusive traumatic memories

- Worrying about the future or the past

We’ve covered other physical symptoms of anxiety in our article which explains how anxiety could be affecting you physically, as well as expert tips, techniques and self-care strategies which could help.

There are some changes in behaviour that are also common in people with an anxiety disorder. These include:

  • Not being able to enjoy your free time
  • Struggling to look after yourself
  • Having difficulties when trying to form or maintain relationships
  • Worrying about trying new things
  • Avoiding places or situations that trigger your anxiety
  • Compulsive behaviour like constantly checking things

Experiencing sudden, intense anxiety and fear could be a panic attack. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • Having a racing heartbeat
  • Feeling faint, lightheaded or dizzy
  • Feeling like you’re losing control
  • Trembling, shaking or sweating
  • Feeling short of breath or breathing very quickly
  • Having a tingling in your lips or fingers
  • Feeling sick

    A panic attack usually lasts between five and 30 minutes. They can be scary, but they aren’t dangerous and shouldn’t cause any harm. If you do find yourself experiencing any of the above symptoms, it's important to speak to your GP who may carry out a physical examination and advise blood tests to rule out other conditions first. 

If you do find yourself experiencing any of the above symptoms, it's important to speak to your GP who may carry out a physical examination and advise blood tests to rule out other conditions first.

What causes anxiety?

We don’t fully understand why some people develop an anxiety disorder and others don’t, but there are some things that increase your risk of having an anxiety disorder.

These include:

  • Having a close relative (like a parent) who has an anxiety disorder
  • Going through a stressful or traumatic event like domestic violence or bullying
  • Having problems with drugs or alcohol
  • Having depression
  • Having problems with your physical health like chronic pain
  • Childhood trauma
  • Social isolation
  • Negative life events
  • Stress relating to work or education
  • Being born female
  • Being single
  • Being between 16 and 24 years old

    Other mental health conditions can also cause anxiety. For example, people who develop depression usually have a low mood and they may struggle to enjoy things in life.

What are the different types of anxiety disorders?

Anxiety can be experienced in different ways. If your experiences meet specific criteria, you might be diagnosed with a specific anxiety disorder by your doctor.

Body dysmorphic disorder

BDD means you might have obsessions and compulsions which relate to your physical appearance. 

Perinatal anxiety or perinatal OCD

This is when you develop problems with anxiety during pregnancy or in the first year after you’ve given birth.


If you have a phobia, it means you have an extreme fear or you have anxiety which is triggered by a certain situation like going outside, or a certain object like spiders. 

Panic disorder

Panic disorder means you might have regular or frequent panic attacks and these have no clear cause or trigger. If you have a panic disorder, you might constantly feel worried or afraid of having another panic attack. This fear itself might even be able to trigger a panic attack.

Health anxiety

Health anxiety means that you might have compulsions and obsessions which are related to illness. This can include researching and looking up symptoms to check and see if you have them. Health anxiety is linked to OCD. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Having OCD means that you might have repetitive thoughts, urges or behaviours.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

If you’re diagnosed with PTSD, you might have developed anxiety symptoms after going through an event you found traumatic. PTSD can include having flashbacks or nightmares which can feel like you’re re-living all the anxiety you felt at the time of the traumatic event.

Generalised anxiety disorder

GAD means having regular or uncontrollable worries about different things happening in your everyday life. This can be a broad diagnosis as there are lots of symptoms of anxiety. The symptoms you have with GAD might be different from someone else who’s been diagnosed with GAD. 

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder means that your anxiety is triggered by social situations like:

- Parties

- Workplaces

- Everyday situations where you might have to talk to another person
Social anxiety disorder can also be called social phobia.

You might not have been diagnosed with a particular anxiety disorder, but it’s useful to learn about the different diagnoses. However, if you are concerned about your mental health or the mental health of a loved one, it is important to speak to a GP.

How is anxiety disorder treated?

There are different treatments that have been found to help anxiety disorders. These include self-help resources, talking therapies and medication. 

Your GP might offer you self-help resources, such as workbooks or online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) programs, which can quickly help alleviate your symptoms without the need for other options.

If self-help resources are not effective, you may be offered talking therapy like CBT or relaxation therapy, which can be accessed through your GP or online for mild to moderate depression or anxiety.

If you're struggling with anxiety, your doctor might suggest antidepressants for moderate or severe anxiety, and beta-blockers for physical symptoms like heart palpitations.

To access treatment for anxiety, you should speak to your GP. They’ll do an assessment and explain treatment options, you can decide together what treatment might be the most suitable for you.

Living with anxiety

There are things you can do to help ease anxiety symptoms and relax your mind. These include:

  • Doing exercise like running, swimming, walking & yoga
  • Try peer support where people use their experiences to help each other
  • Try slowly spending more time in challenging situations instead of avoiding them
  • Avoid drinks with caffeine as it can disrupt sleep & increase heart rate
  • Avoid consuming alcohol, using recreational drugs, smoking & participating in gambling
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet
  • Talking to friends, family, or a health professional
  • Using breathing exercises to help you stay calm
  • Setting yourself small targets that you can easily achieve
  • Focus on what you can control to feel better, instead of things that you can't change

Frequently asked questions

Crippling anxiety isn’t a clinical term, but it’s a common expression used to describe severe anxiety symptoms or an anxiety disorder. Having crippling anxiety means you have a severe form of anxiety that’s so overwhelming that it can affect your ability to function in everyday life.

If your anxiety is affecting your everyday life, make sure to speak to your GP. 

The 333 rule is a common technique that some people use to cope with anxiety. It’s to help you ground yourself and feel calm when you might feel anxious or overwhelmed.

It involves looking around wherever you are and:

  • Naming three things you see
  • Identifying three sounds you hear
  • Moving or touching three things like your limbs or any external objects

    It’s important to know that there isn’t any concrete evidence to say how effective the 333 rule is, but many people find it helpful when managing their symptoms. The 333 rule isn’t a substitute for treatment, so if you’re struggling, it’s important to speak to your GP.

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Page last reviewed by Boots Pharmacy team on 19/06/2024