Symptoms of anxiety
Anxiety is an intense feeling of discomfort and uneasiness that is felt in the body. Because it is felt so strongly in the body, it can be difficult to understand that it has to do with how you feel mentally.
You may feel, for example:
- pressure on your chest
- that your heart is beating rapidly or hard
- that your mouth is dry
- dizzy or weak or that you have a lump in your stomach.
Some people get diarrhoea or have to urinate more often than normal.
You may not always realise that what you are feeling in your body is anxiety. Anxiety is reactions from the nervous system that you cannot control. Suffering from anxiety can feel very uncomfortable, but it is not dangerous.
Feelings of unreality
Anxiety often develops without there being any obvious external threat, which can create a sense of unreality. Many people describe this as being “in a bubble”, detached from their surroundings.
Anxiety can be perceived differently by different people and be felt in different ways at different times. Most people experience anxiety at some point in their lives. Some will only suffer from it very occasionally. Others may experience frequent severe or persistent anxiety.
More sensitive to stress
Anxiety can make it difficult to relax and get a good night’s sleep. You may wake up in the night, meaning your sleep is disturbed or that you get too little sleep. This can in turn make you more sensitive to stress, which can lead to increased anxiety. Anxiety can also make you restless, impatient and easily irritated, or you may get angry or sad more easily.
Anxiety is a condition that passes by itself, often in just a few minutes. However, the thought of anxiety can persist and you may worry about the feeling returning.
Anxiety that comes on suddenly and is unexpectedly intense is called panic disorder. This is sometimes also called an anxiety attack or a panic attack. If you have a panic attack it is common to:
- feel your heart beating unusually hard or quickly
- have difficulty breathing or to feel pressure on your chest
- have stomach pains, feel sick or feel a “lump” in your throat or stomach
- sweat or feel shivery
- feel dizzy
- feel light-headed or experience tunnel vision
- feel a pricking sensation or numbness in your hands or feet
- have diarrhoea
- experience trembling or shaking, or to feel weak.
You may experience one or more of the above symptoms.
Having a panic attack can be very unpleasant and frightening. It may feel as if you are about to faint, lose control or go mad or even die. But it is not dangerous and will pass by itself.
Even though the panic attack passes quickly, the experience can be so frightening that you think about it a lot and start doing everything you can to avoid it happening again.
If you suffer from repeated panic attacks for one month or more and are so worried about a new attack that it begins to impact on your life, you may have developed something called panic disorder. If this is the case, there is treatment available that can help.
A one-off panic attack does not mean that you have panic disorder.
What causes anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural reaction and does not mean that there is something wrong with you.
Anxiety in connection with a crisis
You may experience anxiety and know what caused it. It may be that you are dealing with something difficult in your life, for example a serious illness, or are forced to be apart from someone close to you, have lost your job, suffered an assault or been treated badly by someone. Anxiety can also develop in connection with depression.
You may also experience anxiety in particularly stressful situations, perhaps before an important meeting or a job interview. This may be hard to deal with at the time, but you know that the anxiety will pass afterwards. This may make it a little easier to cope with.
Links to stress and alcohol
Anxiety may also develop without you knowing why, or be caused by things that you think should not cause anxiety. This can sometimes make the anxiety harder to put up with and make you more worried because you cannot understand the reason for it.
Stress and anxiety go hand in hand – often stress increases the risk of anxiety and fatigue. Anxiety can also develop after drinking alcohol or using drugs.
What can I do?
Anxiety comes and goes, and just like all experiences it will pass by itself after a while. Many people with anxiety want to get rid of the feelings of uneasiness quickly. But if you just allow yourself to experience the feeling, you will notice that your anxiety stops increasing and even reduces after a while. Here are some things you can try if you are feeling anxious:
- Sit on a chair and press your feet into the floor or ground and think about how it feels.
- Describe to yourself what is happening right now and let your thoughts come and go.
- Breathe calmly. Place one hand on your stomach and feel your breathing.
- Continue with or restart whatever you were intending to do before the anxiety began.
Rest, movement and recovery
Try to rest and get enough sleep. If you have difficulty sleeping, it is a good idea to try and take short breaks. This counteracts both stress and your vulnerability to anxiety.
Get moving, for example exercise, take a walk or dance. Preferably your pulse should increase and you should get a little hot and sweaty. The physical effort involved helps the body to produce chemicals that make you feel better. Exercise makes it easier to relax and sleep well.
Is it possible to reduce stress?
If you feel stressed, think about how you could reduce stress. Can you make fewer demands of yourself? Try to do some relaxation exercises. You can find apps for these and example exercises on the internet.
If you smoke, take snus, drink alcohol or drink a lot of coffee, try reducing your intake or cutting these things out entirely. Nicotine and caffeine are substances that can increase anxiety and affect the quality of sleep. You can also try cutting down on food and drink that contains a lot of fast carbohydrates, such as sugar, white bread and soft drinks.
When should I get treatment?
If you feel so anxious that you have difficulty coping with everyday life then you need to get help. This is also the case if you suffer from anxiety and deal with this by drinking, taking drugs or self-harming.
You can also get help if you have resorted to avoiding stressful situations and if you have repeated problems with panic attacks, compulsive behaviour or phobias. There is excellent help available.
You should initially contact your local health centre (vårdcentral). When you make an appointment, you can ask for a longer appointment, which will give you enough time to explain your situation. You can always call 1177 to get medical advice over the phone.