12 May 2023

Anxiety: The Basics

Anxiety is a term we are hearing more in the media now than ever. In fact, Google Trends shows that searches for the word have more than doubled in the past 10 years.

The mental health charity Mind defines anxiety as “a natural human response when we feel that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.”

Anxiety is a fundamental aspect of human functioning that we all experience. When our brain perceives a threat, a part of the brain called the amygdala is activated and releases adrenaline into our blood stream, which triggers a plethora of sensations in the body. Once the threat has passed, our body then returns to its original state of homeostasis.

As prehistoric humans, there were plenty of good reasons for this natural response – we had to dodge lions and catch our own food to survive – however, with civilisation, modern everyday threats have become less extreme, yet our brains stay the same. This causes the same threat system to be triggered for daily tasks, such as seeing an incoming email from a boss, causing our heart to race, despite the response not positively aiding the situation.

Often, we associate anxiety to be something bad or negative, however anxiety can still be a useful emotion that helps us to act fast and get out of dangerous situations - without it, we probably wouldn’t live for very long. Although (thankfully) we no longer meet wild animals on the daily, if we didn’t have anxiety, we wouldn’t be as well equipped for that looming presentation or to protect a toddler from running into a busy road.

However, there is still a public health challenge posed by anxiety – in the UK, over 8 million people are experiencing an anxiety disorder at any one time (Mental Health UK) and nearly 60% of employees experience symptoms of anxiety (Health and Safety Executive).

Anxiety is often mixed up with stress as they share similar emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms. We’ve all felt stress in the workplace at some point. Stress is caused by an existing “stressor” and is often situational, so when you are out of that situation, you no longer feel stressed. For example, let’s say you work in a café, and 2 staff members call in sick on a busy Saturday shift, now you must do the work of 3 people. You might describe this situation as stressful, but things are back to normal the following Saturday when the café is fully staffed, and workload is equally shared. But it is also important to remember that many stressful working environments are not as short lived a busy Saturday café shift, and chronic stress can lead to persistent anxiety and low mood or depression.


How can I seek support?

Feeling anxious or stressed from time to time is perfectly normal and natural. However, if you have noticed an increase in your anxiety recently and it has persisted, or you’ve endured a stressful situation and have started to feel burnt out or exhausted, it may be time to seek support. To begin with, you could talk to a trusted friend or co-worker to gain another perspective. If you feel you need more support:

  • Get in touch with your GP who can discuss medication or therapy with you

  • Anxiety UK run online peer support groups:
  • Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123