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Anxiety is a common feeling that everyone experiences at some stage. It can be a normal emotional response to many stressful situations.

Anxiety is also a natural, understandable emotional response that can help us prepare for challenges. These could be sitting an exam or worrying about a potentially awkward social occasion.

Common triggers for anxiety

What triggers one person's anxiety may not create the same response in someone else.

A break-up, concern about exams or work, or an argument with a friend can make you feel anxious, worried or scared.

Anxiety is an everyday feeling. But it can become a problem when there is no obvious reason for it. Or when anxious feelings persist for more than a couple of weeks.

How anxiety affects you

Individual symptoms of anxiety are things we all experience from time-to-time.

If you experience more than one of the following, over a couple of weeks or longer, you may need some extra support.

Physical effects of anxiety

  • Dry mouth and/or difficulty swallowing
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty getting to and staying asleep
  • Poor concentration
  • Muscle tension and headaches
  • Rapid heart rate and breathing
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Diarrhoea
  • A flare-up of another health problem or illness (for example, dermatitis, asthma)
  • Sexual problems, such as not having any sexual feelings or no interest in sex

Some common ways anxiety can affect your behaviour and feelings

  • Irritability or always being in a bad mood
  • Having a strong urge to avoid situations that could trigger your anxiety
  • Worry or always feeling that something bad is about to happen
  • Asking a lot of needless questions and needing constant reassurance
  • Being a perfectionist
  • Being pessimistic and focusing on what may go wrong in any given situation

How to reduce feelings of anxiety

To start with, identify the times you get anxious and what causes you stress.

Are there things that make the situation better or worse? Are there things that make you feel more relaxed that you can do more of?

Eating and exercise

When people feel anxious they often forget about themselves. Eating healthy food and getting regular exercise will improve your health and wellbeing.

Related topic

Healthy eating active living


There are lots of ways to relax but some of us need to learn how. Different things work for different people, so you need to find what works for you.

Yoga, pilates and meditation are very popular. There are classes available in most towns. They’re not for everyone, and not the only way to relax.

Going for a walk, run with a friend or taking some time out for yourself are all methods of relaxing.

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When you’re feeling anxious, remind yourself this is a feeling that will pass. Try to distract yourself by thinking about something different.

See if you can concentrate on your breathing, focusing your attention elsewhere.

Talking about your anxiety

Bottling things up can increase how anxious you feel. It can be hard but if possible talk to a friend, family member or a GP about what’s making you feel anxious.

The simple act of talking to someone outside the situation can help you to get some context on how you are feeling.

Give it time

Changes in behaviour don’t happen overnight. But you can learn to manage feelings of anxiety and not let them take over.

Following the tips here will help and don’t forget to reach out to someone to talk about it.

Extra support for anxiety

If you’re feeling so anxious that it’s impacting on your day-to-day life, you might need some extra support. See face-to-face help to see who you can talk to if you decide you want outside help.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in helping people manage anxiety.

CBT helps you manage problems by thinking more positively. It frees you from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

People like your local GP or a clinical or counselling psychologist can help you. If they can't, then they may refer you to a specialist.

Related topic

Generalised anxiety disorder in adults

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

page last reviewed: 30/09/2018
next review due: 30/09/2021

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