What is anxiety, and what do the symptoms look like? Can I help myself or do I need to get help?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural response to stress. It helps activate our body to respond to perceived physical, social, or emotional danger. This is called the flight, fight, or freeze response. Anxiety can help keep us and our loved ones motivated, safe, and healthy.   

Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by anxiety. We might experience unhelpful anxiety or find it hard to tell between real danger and perceived danger. Many things can help.

Symptoms of anxiety may include:
  • Physical feeling of unease (butterflies, sweating, racing heart, breathlessness, achy)
  • Difficulty sleeping, restlessness, and/or fatigue
  • Fear, panic, nervousness, tension, irritability 
  • Worry, having a hard time focusing or stopping anxious thoughts.

If anxiety is causing distress, doesn’t match the situation (e.g is bigger than what the situation calls for), is disrupting normal activities, and/or continues for a long time, it’s a good signal to seek support. 

What can you do to help manage symptoms of anxiety?

1. Breathing techniques, distraction, or relaxation exercises.
There are lots of breathing exercises online. You could also try meditations and guided relaxation exercises. 

2. Learn and reconnect with positive coping strategies. What has helped you before?
Some people like to be outside in the fresh air and do something like take a walk, or lie in the sun. For others, it can be good to call a friend. You might have something creative you like doing, or just read a book or watch a movie. Whatever makes you feel calm and positive is going to help you manage the symptoms of anxiety. 

3. Exercise, healthy nutrition and hydration, good quality sleep.
Our physical and mental health are interrelated. Taking the time to take care of our body will support our mental wellbeing.  We all know about healthy eating, exercise and sleep, it’s just a matter of finding the motivation to do the right thing!

4. Talk to someone you trust, make time to connect or ask for help.
Talk to a friend or a family member. There are professional services that can help you too – see the contact information at the bottom of this page.

5. Challenge your thoughts, are they true? How likely are they to come true?
Is the thought a fact, or is it just your opinion? What is the evidence? Is it really the end of the world?

6. Notice what you can control and what you can’t (act or let go).
Some things are in our control and others are not. The trick is identifying what you can’t change and let that go. The things you can change – those are up to you to try to find a positive way to make those changes. It can really help to talk this through with a supportive person. 

7. Avoid too much stressful or negative information (i.e., limit social media).
Social media is going to cause anxiety for everyone! The more you look at negative information or try to compare yourself or your life to what you see on social media, the more it will make you feel insecure. What matters most is your life around you, in real time. Try to limit your social media time – set yourself a daily challenge of, for example, one hour online.

8. Seek support!
See our Toolkit for help and inspiration! Talk to someone you can trust – an adult or a friend or a counselor.