Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Anxiety is a totally normal reaction - it's function is to keep us safe. When we perceive a threat we react with our primitive fight, flight (or freeze) response, this floods the body with adrenaline and affects how we feel both physically and mentally.
What does anxiety look like?
When we think of anxiety, stress and panic attacks we often think of the over dramatised images we see on TV and in films- people gripping their chest, unable to breath and often dramatically passing out. (Which by the way can happen) Or that wonderful favourite of mine they do the above then sit down and breathe into a paper bag and all is well again within a few seconds...! Not amazingly realistic sadly, and this probably leads to people believing that anxiety is always very dramatic, that we all experience it in the same way and that it's very easily solved.
In reality anxiety, stress and panic attacks can look very different for every individual person who experiences it. Some of the most common symptoms, that you will no doubt be aware of, include;
Tight feeling in the chest
Shortness of breath or feeling unable to breath.
Increased heart rate
Feeling worried or on edge
However some of the less spoken about symptoms are also really common and can be very troubling for people to experience, especially when they don't realise it is the anxiety that may be causing these symptoms. Often people worry that they have something seriously wrong with them physically or mentally (such as cancer, a heart attack, brain tumour, schizophrenia etc.) They often don't realise anxiety can cause and/or contribute to many other physical health conditions.
Some of the lesser known anxiety symptoms include;
Skin rashes and hives
Excessively itchy skin
Alopecia (this autoimmune disease is often thought to be triggered by stress and anxiety)
Trichotillomania (reoccurrant pulling out of own hair)
Nausea and sickness
Diarrhoea and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Shaking hands, foot tapping or repetitive motions
Perfectionism (in self and in others)
Workaholism (the need to be constantly busy in paid or unpaid work)
Feeling like you are going crazy or losing your mind
Hyperfixation (getting totally engrossed in something to the point where you forget the world around you)
Heartburn and acid indigestion
Headaches and migraines
Feeling like your mind has gone blank or is foggy
Depression (although it has never been proven that one can cause the other the majority of depressed people also report to have struggled with anxiety at some point too.)
High Functioning Anxiety
In some people, known as high functioning anxiety sufferers, you would never know they were anxious. They put a brave face on, smile through the feelings inside to get the job done. Much like a swan they are beautiful and majestic on the surface but under the water they are paddling like crazy!
Swallowing down all this stress and anxiety and faking it all day or in certain situations is just as exhausting as the anxiety itself. As such, high functioning anxiety sufferers actually get a double whammy from their anxiety, the anxiety itself and the effort covering it up, this can often lead to depression.
Types of Anxiety
Just as anxiety can affect us all differently there are many different types of anxiety and many different things that can cause us to become anxious. Below are some of the main types of anxiety;
Generalised Anxiety. Worry and tension far more extreme than the situation requires or when there seemingly isn't a need for the anxiety and it seems to be coming from nowhere.
Social Anxiety. Overwhelming anxiety and self consciousness in every day social situations such as at work/school/Uni, social gatherings, special occasions etc.
Health Anxiety. Obsessive fear of getting a physical or mental health condition, of becoming ill or dying. (Can also be fear that loved ones will become unwell/die). Often compulsive checking also takes place such as symptoms online or repeatedly checking of the body for signs and symptoms of illness.
Separation Anxiety. We tend to associate this with children but it can also occur in adults. Fear of being separated from those you rely upon and love such as parents, partner, siblings, children, grandchildren etc.
Panic Disorder. Regular panic attacks seemingly without cause and fear of having panic attacks.
Phobias. Fear of a specific thing such as snakes, spiders, heights etc.
Agoraphobia. A complex fear of leaving home that often also includes fears of being alone, being in confined/in crowded places and of travel (especially when the travel is alone).
Toilet Phobia. Fear of being too far from a toilet, using a public toilet, not being able to go to the toilet or that others may be watching or listening.
Postnatal Anxiety. Fears since baby is born about baby being in danger or coming to harm, these fears can affect daily life and be intrusive thoughts and/or visualisations and may result in panic attacks.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Reoccurring and unwanted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviours.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This can develop after exposure to one or more traumatic events/situations.
The bad thing is anxiety is extremely common (The WHO* reported in 2017 that 1 in 13 people suffered from anxiety globally- I think we can safely assume with 2020 and Covid 19 that this number will have increased) but the good thing is anxiety is also highly treatable. Talking therapies really do help.
Please see my blog on Anxiety https://www.gilljacksoncounselling.com/post/anxiety for some handy hints and tips on controlling anxiety and panic attacks. You can also book an appointment with myself or another mental health professional/therapist for advice on how to manage your anxiety symptoms.
Author: Gill Jackson of Gill Jackson Therapeutic Counselling, BA Hons Counselling, Diploma in Couples and Family Therapy, CIPD, SMACCPH
Bio: I am a Therapist/Psychotherapist and Accredited Mentor in private practice in the UK. Qualified since 2007. Working with adults, young adults and children. I specialise in Anxiety Disorders and Depression.
This article is not intended as a replacement for medical advice, if you are suffering from any physical or mental ill health please seek advice of your Doctor where necessary.