Anxiety – what is it?

“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”

Arthur Somers Roche, playwright

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week (15-19 May 23) and the topic this year is anxiety (last year it was loneliness, and I hope you’ve all managed to make plenty of those ‘weak ties’ with other people at work and in life, as they are so important for helping people to feel that they belong and are not alone).

In this series of 5 emails, I want to give you a short-but-sharp, to-the-point overview of the topic of anxiety and what steps you can take to manage it better in yourself, as well as be aware of what someone else might be going through.

Important note: the content of these emails is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should consult your doctor if you believe you suffer from an anxiety disorder or if you want help managing your life.

We all experience moments in our lives when we feel anxious: taking an exam, speaking in public, having a job interview or going on a first date, for example, can all cause us to feel stressed and uncomfortable in the short term. In fact, this sort of pressure can bring out the best in us.

It is when the anxiety is long-lasting and impacts the quality of our lives that we ought to seek professional medical help. Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can include and are not limited to the following (when experienced more often than not over a 6-month period):

  • restlessness or feeling on edge
  • tiring quickly
  • inability to control feelings of anxiety
  • difficulty concentrating or inability to focus on anything
  • short temper, frustration, or irritability
  • muscle tension
  • disturbed sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep or restless sleep).


Anxiety disorders can be general or specific. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists the following:

  • Panic disorder: a sudden burst of unexplained severe anxiety lasting from a couple of minutes to half an hour or more.


  • Generalised anxiety disorder: persistent worry, typically mild in intensity; feeling tense, nervous and constantly on edge.


  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): obsessions that provoke anxiety about negative consequences, and compulsive, repetitive behaviours to relieve the anxiety (e.g. fear of illness relieved by constant hand-washing).


  • Specific phobias: irrational fear of certain objects or situations (e.g. injections, the dentist, insects, darkness).


  • Agoraphobia: fear of being in places with lack of easy or unembarassing escape.


  • Social phobia: persistent, chronic fear of being watched and judged by others.


  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): a reaction in the form of extreme stress to an event such as a car accident, major disaster, or exposure to violence involving threat of death. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive memories.


This blog series is intended to help you become more aware of anxiety in all its forms, and to help you manage mild episodes of anxiety (stress) in your own lives. In the next email, we’ll be looking at why we react the way we do and why it is essential that our plans for dealing with anxiety are made when we are calm in the mind.

Photo by Anvesh Uppunuthula on Unsplash.

Sign me up to 'Success in Mind' - the weekly newsletter from Face Value