Anxiety Fact sheet

Anxiety is a collective term that describes feelings of worry, nervousness, fear and general unease. It refers to both the emotional and physical sensations we may experience in response to life events such as exams, interviews, moving house, having a baby, getting married or starting something new. The scale of severity of anxiety can vary from mild to severe, from person to person. Most people will experience some degree of anxiety in their life. However, it becomes a problem when a person’s quality of life is negatively affected. At this stage, a specific diagnosis may be made by a medical practitioner.
Symptoms of anxiety are many and varied, and can be classified as either physical or psychological. A person may experience one or many of the symptoms from either group, for short or longer periods of time.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Rapid heart rate and/or breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Digestive issues
  • Muscular aches and pains
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Pins and needles
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Excessive sweating
  • Frequent urination
  • Dry mouth

Psychological Symptoms:

  • Feeling tense, restless or ‘on edge’
  • Lack of concentration
  • Irritability or short temper
  • Feeling a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • Ruminating on the same thoughts about situations or experiences
  • Racing mind
  • Feeling numb or disengaged
A GP may make a diagnosis of anxiety if symptoms have been present for six months or more, or if they negatively affect a person’s quality of life (for example, relationships, ability to work, personal enjoyment and activities).

Specific Diagnoses for Anxiety Disorders:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias

Differential diagnoses:

  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Anaemia
  • Other psychiatric disorders
  • Alcoholism or substance misuse


Your GP may order blood tests or  do a physical examination to rule out any other conditions.

A GP will always discuss the different options for treatment available to a patient diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Psychological interventions include:

  • Individual or group self-help courses (online, in person or from textbooks) recommended by the GP.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Counselling
  • Mindfulness and Applied Relaxation techniques

Pharmaceutical Prescription Medications include:

  • Antidepressants – such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs), Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) or Tricyclics.
  • Beta-Blockers (e.g. Propanolol) may be prescribed to help manage some of the symptoms of anxiety, such as heart palpitations.
  • Benzodiazepines (e.g. Diazepam) – fast-acting medication with sedative actions. Only prescribed for short-term use.
  • Pregabalin (e.g. Lyrica) – an anti-convulsant which is also licensed for use in anxiety disorders.

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