Coping with anxiety, worry and stress

With thanks to our colleagues at

What are anxiety, worry and stress? What do they feel like? What might cause them, and how can you reduce their impact?

It is important to remember that feeling anxious, worried or stressed is normal – we all talk about feeling tense or worried at times. It is a normal response to situations that appear threatening to us. At a certain level, anxiety can be beneficial and help us to perform well or cope in an emergency.

Too much anxiety is not helpful, however. This can occur when we feel unable to cope or to resolve a situation. Our body will try to deal with the situation by triggering the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, which leads to physical symptoms you may recognise, such as a faster heartbeat; feeling dizzy or light-headed; breath speeding up, or feeling short of breath; having butterflies in your stomach or feeling sick; sweating and tingling in the hands or feet. When this happens, you may feel like you are losing control, and tell yourself you are going to faint or have a heart attack.

You may find it hard to concentrate or difficult to relax, or become irritable or emotional, struggle to work or sleep, and adopt unhelpful habits such as smoking, drinking or taking drugs.

How can you manage your anxiety?

You can take control of your anxiety by understanding what it is and which situations or issues in particular cause you to feel intense anxiety. We are all different, and what one person may find anxiety-inducing, another may not.

Once you understand what causes you anxiety and how it manifests itself for you, you can start to work on reducing the physical symptoms.


Think about what causes your stress or anxiety. It can help to write down what was going on when you started to feel anxious. Perhaps keep a diary so you can review how often you start to feel anxious and what causes those feelings.

Managing the physical symptoms

Think about your lifestyle and work out if there are ways you can reduce the pressure on yourself. Make sure you eat a well-balanced diet, get enough sleep, take time for yourself – perhaps engage in a hobby –  and take regular exercise.

Practice relaxation. Relaxation can take a variety of forms – find the one that works for you. Yoga, Qigong or Tai Chi are gentle forms of exercise that teach breathing techniques to help slow down your breath and heart rate. CDs, Youtube clips or apps provide a variety of relaxation techniques that can be enjoyed at home.

Complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology, reiki and aromatherapy can help to provide some time out and relaxation.

Exercise can help by increasing your overall health and sense of wellbeing. Regular participation in exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, to elevate and stabilise mood, and improve sleep and self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.

Distraction techniques such as reading a book, watching TV or listening to music may also help.

Further help can be accessed through your GP, who will have information on talking therapies services in your area.

Useful resources




Mindfulness and meditation downloads

www.headspace.com – a free taster with buy in options

Calm – a series of free guided meditations and sleep stories with buy-in options

Self Anxiety Management (SAM) – a free app with advice and techniques