Anxiety: The Basics

Start here to find out more about anxiety.

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What is it?

Anxiety is the feeling of worry and nervousness that we all feel from time to time. It’s a normal part of our body’s alarm system. Our bodies have three main ways to cope with threat: fight, flight or freeze. If you come across something dangerous your choices are to run (that’s flight) or to fight whatever the danger is. The freeze reaction happens when we’re not sure what to do. Our bodies freeze while we sort out our options.

Sometimes, our brains set off our alarm systems even when there isn’t danger. And your body isn’t great at telling the difference between a real or false threat. When there is no threat to fight or run away from, your body is left with a lot of extra energy. You feel tense, and your heart pounds and your stomach may be upset. These are some of the physical symptoms of anxiety. They are uncomfortable but it’s important to remember that they’re not dangerous.

Some level of anxiety is good. It focuses our attention and motivates us to put effort into what we’re doing.

But, anxiety becomes a problem when it stops us doing things that we used to be able to do, and even enjoyed.

There are many different ways anxiety is experienced

  • An intense fear of a specific object or situation, such as being terrified of heights or needles .
  • A fear of embarrassing yourself in public or worry that someone will judge you negatively.
  • General ongoing worry and a constant feeling of uneasiness and difficulty relaxing.
  • Ongoing thoughts and feelings connected to a traumatic event.
  • Thoughts that get replayed over and over again and won’t go away.
  • Doing the same thing over and over again to help stop the anxiety (for example counting or washing hands many times).
  • Sudden feelings of terror that may include a fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness and fear of having a heart attack or stroke.

Anxiety experiences can range from a little anxiety, which doesn’t interfere with daily activities, to a lot of anxiety, which can be overwhelming and can make daily activities feel nearly impossible. Anxiety disorders may be diagnosed when symptoms make it very difficult to carry on in our day-to-day activities.

What you can do if you’ve been feeling worried or anxious

Anxiety challenges are easier to overcome if they’re recognized early. You can take action on your own or with support from friends, family or professionals.

  • Explore the “What Next” options below to learn about the early signs and help you decide on steps you can take.
  • Check out these Tips and Apps & Tools for things you can do to help manage anxiety.
  • Talk to someone you trust and let them know how you’re feeling. Check out Tips for Talking to Someone for help getting started.
  • If you think you need support from someone else, check out our Get Support section for different options.


What Next?

If you want to learn more about the early signs or find out if this is something you are experiencing here are a few options.