Anxiety is a feeling of worry or fear that everyone experiences at times.
You can feel anxious or worried when you are concerned about something you are experiencing or that is about to happen. For example, a test, speaking in public, a job interview or a social occasion.
Feelings of anxiety are your body's natural reaction to some stressful or dangerous situations. They focus your attention and can help you react. A healthy amount of anxiety is OK and can keep you safe.
But anxiety can sometimes build up over time and be difficult to manage.
Our tips to help with anxiety can help you manage and reduce feelings of anxiety.
Signs of anxiety
Anxiety affects different people in different ways.
Anxiety can affect how you think, feel and behave, including:
- being on edge, restless or irritable
- feeling a sense of dread
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- repeatedly checking things or seeking assurance from others
- avoiding situations or putting off doing things you are worried about
- an increase or decrease in your appetite or craving junk food
- loss of interest in sex
Physical signs of anxiety can include:
- shortness of breath
- tummy aches or diarrhoea
- sleep problems
- teeth-grinding or jaw clenching
- a strong, fast or irregular heartbeat
- pins and needles
- a dry mouth
- muscle tension or neck and shoulder pain
- a flare-up of another health problem, for example, dermatitis or asthma
Signs of anxiety can be mistaken for a physical illness. Talk to your GP if you are concerned about any of these signs.
If your anxiety has been going on for a while or getting worse, you may need to talk to someone else.
Causes of anxiety
What causes one person's anxiety may not create the same response in someone else. Anxiety can be brought on by different situations or experiences.
Anxiety can be an understandable response to a stressful event in your life, for example:
Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is making you anxious. This can be upsetting or stressful. If you learn to recognise what is making you anxious, it can help you deal with the uncertainty.
Anxiety can also be part of stress.
Tips to help with anxiety
There are many things you can try to help you learn how to manage feelings of anxiety.
Every day, for at least 2 weeks, make a note of how you are feeling at different times of the day.
Rate your anxiety on a scale of 1 to 10 and note:
- where you were
- who you were with
- what you were doing
- what you were thinking
This will help you see what situations are most likely to make you anxious. Think of anything you might be able to do to make these situations easier.
Make a plan
Make a list of the things you are anxious about. If you think there are things you can do to help with them, write a plan.
Include in your plan:
- what you can do about it
- how you can do it
- when you will do it
If there are things you can do, do them as soon as possible or set a time for when you can. Start with the small or easiest ones first. Gradually build up to facing your bigger problems or fears.
If the anxiety returns, remind yourself that you have either taken action or have a plan in place.
If you don't stick to your plan, don't be too disappointed. Focus on small achievements.
Manage your screen time
Screen time is the time you spend looking at a device such as a phone, tablet, computer, games console or TV.
Screen time can take up time that could be spent outdoors, socialising or being physically active. It can also expose you to stress, bullying or negativity through social media.
To help manage your screen time:
- make screen free zones in your home, for example, the bedroom
- turn off or limit notifications on your phone
- avoid using screen time when you’re bored or stressed
- avoid screen time during meals or when you are with family or friends
- swap screen time for healthier alternatives
- manage your social media apps and feeds
If your worry is overwhelming, set aside an amount of ‘worry time’ to go through your worries each day.
Try 15 to 30 minutes each day to start with. When the time is up, focus your thoughts on other things until tomorrow.
Challenge unhelpful thoughts
Negative thought patterns can make anxiety worse. They can lead to unhelpful feelings and actions.
Do not accept a negative thought as a fact, challenge it.
- what is the evidence for and against your negative thought?
- are there other ways you can look at this situation?
- if you were to be positive about the situation, how would you view it?
Try to change a negative thought for a more helpful one. Sometimes you will be able to, but it is OK if you cannot
Talk about your feelings
If you feel anxious, it can help to talk to a friend or family member about how you feel.
Telling someone about how you are feeling can help to make things clearer for you. It can help you understand why you are feeling anxious and to get help with how to manage it.
Breathing exercises can help your mind and body get control of a difficult situation. They only take a few minutes to do and can help you manage strong emotions and reduce stress.
Mindfulness teaches you to become aware of the present moment. This helps you enjoy things more.
You can learn to not react or become overwhelmed by what’s going on around you by doing mindfulness. Instead, you notice your thoughts, feelings and sensations.
Mindfulness can be an easy activity you can fit into your day.
Anxiety can make you feel more tired than usual. It can also make it more difficult to get or stay asleep.
Sleep is important for mental health. It helps you to think clearly and gives you the energy to deal with problems.
Most people need 5 to 9 hours sleep a night. More than 7 hours is recommended for adults. The ideal amount is 8 hours, but everyone's different.
What you eat can make a difference to your mental health. A diet rich in foods such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds can boost your energy and mental health.
Healthier food choices can improve your mental and physical health.
Physical activity can help you sleep, relax and feel better. It can help reduce stress and burn off anxious energy. It can also be a good way to meet people and get more involved in your community.
Any activity is useful, as long as it is suited to your ability and you do enough of it. Find something that you enjoy doing. This will help keep you motivated to do it every day.
Alcohol and anxiety
Alcohol affects your mental health and can make anxiety worse in the long-term. Some people call the effects of alcohol the next day 'the fear'. This is when you feel you have done yourself some lasting damage after a night of drinking.
Using alcohol to cope with difficult feelings can create long-term problems, including addiction.
Cutting back on alcohol can make you feel better physically and mentally.
Self-help resources for anxiety
Clear Fear app
A free app that helps you manage the symptoms of anxiety.
Mindshift CBT app
A free app that teaches meditation and mindfulness skills.
Minding your Wellbeing Programme videos
Five videos that help you learn more about mindfulness, gratitude, self-care and resilience.
Stress Control course
For many people, stress can include or be linked to feelings of anxiety or low mood.
Our 'Stress Control' course can help you learn stress management skills.
When to talk to someone else
If you have tried our tips and the self help resources but you think you need extra support, it may help to talk to someone.
A free text message service to chat anonymously with someone for support. Funded by the HSE.
Text HELLO to 50808 to chat with a volunteer, anytime.
Samaritans services are available anytime, for confidential and non-judgemental support.
Worried about someone else
If you notice someone is struggling with their mental health, this can be worrying. You may not know what to do.
Non-urgent advice: Talk to a GP or mental health professional if:
Urgent advice: If you feel you are going to harm yourself or someone else, get help as soon as possible from:
- the nearest emergency department (ED)
- emergency services on 112 or 999
If you go to an ED, it can help to bring someone with you.