Anxiety and panic
What is anxiety?
All of us experience some anxiety from time to time. This is normal and may help us cope with a difficult or stressful situation. Feeling anxious before an examination for example increases the levels of adrenaline and other stress related hormones in our bodies and enhances performance. We are more alert and clear thinking. Normal anxiety is rarely problematic and once the stressful situation passes we quickly return to normal.
An anxiety problem is a more severe form of normal anxiety. It is more intense, more frequent or longer lasting and can become a habit that is difficult to break. Severe or chronic anxiety can stop you doing many things in your day-to-day life. You may be unable to walk down the street, go to the supermarket, into a lecture theatre or a pub without feeling anxious, uncomfortable and upset. Over time you may avoid going to these places to avoid feeling so bad. An anxiety problem is not a physical illness but health problems may develop if anxiety persists for a long time, for example digestive disorders, hair loss and high blood pressure.
Some typical anxiety responses
unpleasant body sensations (heart pounding, sweating, tense muscles, dry throat, shaking, feeling or being sick, dizziness)
inability to concentrate
worrying thoughts or unpleasant memories coming into your mind
intense dislike or fear of some situations and therefore avoidance of them (eg talking to people you don’t know, walking in the street, being in a tutorial class)
panic attacks coming out of the blue, and once one has happened fearing that another will strike at any time
disturbed sleep, with unpleasant dreams or nightmares.
What can I do?
It is possible to control anxiety, to reduce it to an acceptable and manageable level or even get rid of the problem completely. It isn’t easy but is very worthwhile when you think of how much more enjoyable life will be when you aren’t so anxious all the time. The most important thing to bear in mind is that you can and will overcome your anxiety problem, with a bit of work and perhaps some outside help.
The NHS has produced a self-help booklet (pdf, 112Kb) which will enable you to understand what anxiety is, what causes it and what keeps it going. They also address ways to overcome your anxiety by learning better ways to cope with it.
A panic attack is a severe experience of anxiety. People may feel intense dread, experience various physical symptoms and have extreme thoughts of losing control, going mad, having a heart attack or dying. It is also possible to become afraid of panic attacks themselves because the experience can be so unpleasant. Paradoxically this tends to make a person even more prone to having an attack!
Although panic attacks can be very frightening, they are not actually harmful - people do not actually have heart attacks, develop psychiatric illnesses or die from them!
This self help guide (pdf 300Kb) is produced by the NHS to help people understand more about panic and to learn techniques to cope and reduce panic attacks.
When to seek further help
Anxiety can affect your health only when it becomes chronic and severe, so it is important that you seek help if you think that this is the case:
if the anxiety problems do not start to improve despite trying the ideas above
if your fears are persistent and difficult to control
if your anxiety is stopping you from living a normal life, or if you are avoiding important activities.
Where to get help
Speak to a close friend or family member, Personal Tutor or Supervisor.
Talk to your GP.
Speak to someone at the Counselling Service where counsellors can help you understand and deal with your anxiety. You can be seen on an individual basis on or in a group specifically designed to address anxiety management.