What is an anxiety?

Feeling anxious at times is a normal part of life. It can even be helpful when it alerts you to danger. Anxiety becomes a disorder when it occurs frequently, feels intense, lasts hours or even days, and begins to interfere with your daily life, school, work, sleep, and important relationships. This type of anxiety can greatly reduce your enjoyment of life, and may even lead to health problems.

There are many types of anxiety disorders that may be causing changes in your behaviour, thoughts, emotions, and physical health. These include panic disorder, social phobias, specific phobias, acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

These disorders all have one thing in common: they can generally be treated.

How common are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems. Research into these disorders has shown that up to 1 in 4 adults will have an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, and that up to 1 in 10 people will have an anxiety disorder each year. These disorders are the number one mental health problem in women, and the second-most common mental health problem in men.

Unfortunately, people may suffer for years before seeking help, sometimes avoiding the stigma attached to these types of mental health issues, and sometimes believing the common misconception that they are simply a sign of weakness or instability. The fact is, they are medical disorders that can be diagnosed and treated.

Causes of Anxiety Disorder

Though the causes of anxiety disorders are not totally understood, it is believed that they develop due to a mix of biological factors along with your individual situation, much like other health problems. For some people, what appears to be an anxiety disorder may mostly be due to an underlying medical condition. Treating the physical condition in these cases will also help resolve the anxiety.

How are anxiety disorders diagnosed?

Having your anxiety disorder properly diagnosed is key to beginning the right treatment, but for many people, 10 or more years may pass before they get that diagnosis. If you are concerned that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, your first step should be your GP so that possible medical causes can be determined.


Your GP will most likely recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as this is the recommended talking therapy for most anxieties as detailed in the NICE Guidelines. CBT is generally considered short-term, typically consisting of 12 to 15 one-hour weekly sessions. The success of CBT in treating anxiety disorders, and helping people stay well after treatment, has made it the first choice for psychotherapy in these conditions.