fbpixel
See a GP on your phone in minutes.
DEFINITIVE GUIDE

Anxiety disorders, symptoms and treatments

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) can drastically affect people's mood and lifestyle. It can be a long term condition that fluctuates in nature and severity.

The disorder occurs at any age but is common in adolescence and can be diagnosed if symptoms have been present for at least 6 months.

GAD may be present alongside symptoms of depression and can pose health risks if not addressed. Find out if you suffer from generalised anxiety disorder and get the right treatment today.

Written by Dr Abby Hyams and Maria Munir. Reviewed by Ri Adel. Last reviewed on 12/12/2019. Next review date 12/12/2022.

Fast facts

Do I have anxiety?

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time. Anxiety is a sense of unease or worry and can be mild to severe. It often occurs when people are faced with a stressful situation such as having to take a test or moving to a new city. This feeling of nervousness is normal; however, you may have an anxiety disorder if you experience worry and fear for an extended period of time or if you feel constantly on edge even if there is no obvious reason to feel that way.

How to cope with anxiety?

Anxiety symptoms can adversely affect your quality of life, physical health and occupational health. Fortunately, there are various techniques to help you cope with anxiety in the long and short term. Incorporating a balanced exercise and sleep routine is essential for long term mental health. In acute anxiety incidents, breathing exercises are a great way to keep you relaxed. When you start to feel anxious, inhale and exhale slowly and deeply and keep your shoulders relaxed. If your symptoms are persiting and troublesome, it is worth seeing your GP so they can assess your condition, refer you to talking therapy, or prescribe you effective medication if needed.

CHAPTER ONE

Types of anxiety disorders

Generalised anxiety disorder is just one type of anxiety disorder. Some anxiety disorders are triggered by specific events or objects such as PTSD and phobias, however, others have symptoms that can come on suddenly such as panic disorder or without any obvious reason.

We can help with:

What are the different types of anxiety disorders? And do I have an anxiety disorder?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the feeling of worry, fear or panic. It can be caused by a past or upcoming event or the thought of something going wrong. You may feel anxiety when you take an exam, start a new job or if you are in debt. When the situation has passed or been resolved, you may go back to feeling calm and at ease. This is a normal response to a stressful situation. However, if you are experiencing anxiety for an extended period of time, or for no reason in particular, this may be a sign of something more, such as generalised anxiety disorder.

What is generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is a type of anxiety disorder. Generalised anxiety extends beyond common feelings of anxiousness. It is a constant or frequent uneasy feeling and anxiety. People with GAD are also unable to control their worry about various life happenings:

  • They may feel fear, panic and unease many times a day even if there is no reason to worry.
  • They may not be able to work out what it is that they are worried about.
  • They may be unable to calm themselves down.
Important

GAD can be difficult and frightening to live with. See a doctor if you think you have GAD to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

What is an anxiety disorder?

An anxiety disorder, like generalised anxiety disorder, occurs when the feelings of anxiety, fear and worry are excessive and exaggerated. An anxiety disorder can cause you to have racing thoughts and can be brought on in circumstances where no real threat is present. Anxiety disorder is a broad term to cover all types of anxiety.

Social anxiety disorder

Social anxiety disorder, also referred to as social phobia, is a type of anxiety disorder that affects people in social situations. You can tell if you are struggling with social anxiety disorder if you regularly experience a feeling of intense fear, worry and unease in situations where you have to interact and communicate with people. You may be constantly overthinking and feeling worried about what other people think of you and fear being rejected, judged or evaluated negatively. Or you may just find social interaction makes you feel anxious without knowing why.

Panic disorder

If you are experiencing regular panic attacks with no definite trigger, you may have panic disorder. Panic disorder is characterised by recurrent panic attacks that can occur out of the blue or in a stressful situation. During a panic attack, you may experience symptoms such as an overwhelming sense of dread, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, choking, rapid heart rate, trembling, numbness, nausea and chest pain. It is also common for people with panic disorder to continuously worry about experiencing panic attacks.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

You may have heard the term PTSD. PTSD, also known as post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety disorder that can affect anyone who has experienced a traumatic situation. Individuals with PTSD experience increased levels of anxiety following exposure to a terrifying event such as a car crash, house fire, personal assault or any event perceived to be stressful. If you have PTSD you may feel anxiety about the event months or years after it has passed.

Phobias

Many people have phobias. A phobia is a form of anxiety disorder characterised by an intense or overwhelming fear of a specific thing. It may be an object, place, situation, animal or feeling. This feeling of fear can be disproportionate to the trigger.

People can live with phobias and not experience exposure to their trigger. However, phobias can affect the quality of life for some people, especially if they have multiple phobias. Common phobias include:

  • Acrophobia - fear of heights
  • Aerophobia - fear of flying
  • Arachnophobia - fear of spiders
  • Astraphobia - fear of thunder and lightning
  • Autophobia - fear of being alone
  • Claustrophobia - fear of tight, crowded or confined spaces
  • Emetophobia- fear of vomit
  • Hemophobia - fear of blood
  • Hydrophobia - fear of water
  • Ophidiophobia - fear of snakes
  • Zoophobia - fear of animals
  • Tokophobia - fear of pregnancy and/or childbirth

OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is an anxiety disorder that causes an individual to have obsessive thoughts and may engage in compulsive behaviours. If you notice unpleasant or unwanted thoughts repeatedly popping into your mind, you may have OCD. OCD can also cause you to compulsively perform actions repeatedly and feel fear or intense worry if you are unable to carry out this repetitive behaviour. OCD can develop at any age but most commonly arises during early adulthood.

Body dysmorphic disorder

BDD or body dysmorphic disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes you to uncontrollably worry about your appearance. People who experience BDD tend to obsessively worry and focus on what they perceive to be flaws in their body image. They may also engage in compulsive behaviours and routines to curb their worries about their body image. BDD is a serious disorder and can drastically affect the way you live your life. In extreme cases, BDD can lead to eating disorders and self-harm.

CHAPTER TWO

Generalised anxiety disorder symptoms

There are noticeable symptoms that help you tell the difference between GAD and general feelings of worry.These can be a constant feeling of being on edge and the inability to let go of worry. We can help with:

Do I have anxiety? And what is social anxiety?

What is the difference between worry and anxiety?

This table uses everyday life examples to distinguish between anxiety and an anxiety disorder:

Everyday anxietyAnxiety disorder
Worry about important life events, such as paying bills, a romantic breakup and keeping your jobConstant and irrational worry that affects your daily life and causes significant distress
Embarrassment during an awkward or uncomfortable social situationTotally avoiding social situations due to irrational feeling, for example a fear of being judged or humiliated
Nervousness about upcoming life events, such as taking a test or public speakingSeemingly random panic attacks and the fear of having another one
Rational fear of a dangerous place, object or situationUnsubstantiated fear or avoidance of a place, object, or situation
Difficulty sleeping immediately after a traumatic eventRecurring nightmares or flashbacks related to an event that occurred many months or years before

Do I have stress or generalised anxiety disorder?

When stress and anxiety occur at the same time for a long period of time, it can lead to adverse effects on both the body and the mind. Although stress and generalised anxiety disorder share a few symptoms and can occur simultaneously, they have a few differences. See the chart below to understand these differences:

Types of anxiety disorder

The feeling of anxiety is a symptom of different anxiety disorders. Other anxiety disorders include:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Perinatal anxiety
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

What are the symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder can affect the way we think and perceive situations. This can affect the way we feel and behave. Signs of generalised anxiety disorder include:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Perinatal anxiety
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

What are the physical symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder?

Generalised anxiety disorder is a mental issue and can affect the way you think and perceive situations. It can manifest in physical symptoms such as:

  • Muscle tension and aches
  • Trembling, twitchiness or shaking
  • Pounding heart or chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Churning sensation in your stomach
  • Headaches
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia or trouble falling asleep
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Being jumpy and easily startled

What is an anxiety attack?

If you suffer from GAD or other anxiety disorders, you may experience anxiety attacks. An anxiety attack can be triggered by a specific event or issue. When this trigger occurs, you may feel fearful and worried. This can cause physical symptoms such as a rapid heart rate, restlessness and a churning sensation in your stomach. An anxiety attack is less severe than a panic attack.

What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?

Panic attacks and anxiety attacks share a lot of symptoms, however, during a panic attack, physical symptoms are more intense and can be accompanied by a fear of dying or a sense of detachment from the world (derealisation) or oneself (depersonalisation). An anxiety attack would usually pass once the stressor has been removed whereas a panic attack would usually not be in reaction to a particular stress.

This table shows how emotional symptoms differ between an anxiety attack and a panic attack:

Emotional symptomsAnxiety attackPanic attack
worry 
distress 
restlessness 
fear
fear of dying 
fear of losing control 
sense of detachment 

Physical symptoms of a panic attack and anxiety attack include:

  • heart palpitations
  • accelerated heart rate
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • shortness of breath
  • chills or hot flashes
  • excessive sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • numbness or tingling
  • a dry mouth
  • a choking sensation
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • feeling dizzy or faint
  • headache
Tip

Panic attack symptoms often occur out of the blue whereas anxiety attack symptoms build up and intensify over time.

Is my anxiety a symptom of another condition?

It is important to note that in some cases, anxiety can be a feature of another diagnosis. Seeking an assessment and treatment for the original diagnosis can often resolve the symptoms of heightened anxiety. Some examples of psychological and organic causes include:

  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Drug and alcohol withdrawal
  • Temporal lobe epilepsy
  • Pheochromocytoma
  • Hypoglycaemia
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Caffeine abuse
CHAPTER THREE

What causes generalised anxiety disorder?

The causes of generalised anxiety disorder can stem from biological, environmental or genetic factors. You may be at risk of developing GAD if you have a substance abuse problem or have a high caffeine intake.

You can develop new habits and lifestyle changes to help avoid GAD. We can help with:

What causes generalised anxiety disorder? And can coffee cause anxiety?

Genetics

Some people may have a genetic predisposition to generalised anxiety disorder. If you have a close family member with GAD, you are more likely to develop it as well. Often, GAD is triggered by both environmental triggers and genetic markers.

Brain chemistry

Your brain chemistry may be the cause of your generalised anxiety disorder.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that initiates a quick response to danger. When the amygdala is overly sensitive, it can react to situations that aren’t threatening. This can cause an imbalance of brain chemicals like serotonin and noradrenaline. An overly sensitive amygdala can cause anxiety over time because the brain associates fear with situations that are safe.

Development and experiences

The way you have been brought up and the experiences you have gone through can contribute to the development of generalised anxiety disorder. Critical or traumatic life experiences such as domestic violence and child abuse can cause a hyperactive anxiety reaction. Your experiences may also cause you to pick up certain behavioural patterns like the inability to handle stressful situations.

Personality

People who have a shy personality may be more likely to develop generalised anxiety disorder. Individuals who are often negative and those who tend to be cautious are also more likely to develop GAD.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of developing generalised anxiety disorder include:

  • Gender - according to UK statistics, women are almost twice as likely than men to suffer from anxiety disorders.
  • Family history - if you have family members with GAD, you are more likely to develop the condition due to genetic factors and family dynamics.
  • Substance abuse - drug abuse and alcohol misuse can increase your risk of developing GAD. Relying on drugs to curb mild anxiety symptoms can lead to heightened symptoms of anxiety.
  • Depression - people with GAD often have depression as well. Adolescents with depression are at a higher risk of developing GAD later in life.
  • Stressful events - recurring stressful events or situations can cause you to develop GAD. This could include a very stressful job or an arduous relationship.
  • Health condition - individuals with chronic health conditions are more likely to develop GAD.
  • Caffeine - excessive caffeine intake can put you at greater risk of GAD. Caffeine can increase the feelings of worry and unease and can contribute to GAD.
  • Sleep deprivation - a lack of sleep can cause anxiety. People who experience chronic insomnia are at a higher risk of developing GAD.
  • Lack of B vitamins - a lack of vitamin B12 can cause you to develop anxiety symptoms.
CHAPTER FOUR

How to treat generalised anxiety disorder

You can overcome generalised anxiety disorder with effective treatment like CBT.

However, what works for others may not be helpful for you. Finding the right treatment for you is important. We can help with:

How to treat generalised anxiety disorder?

How is generalised anxiety disorder diagnosed?

Your GP will be able to diagnose generalised anxiety disorder. To do so, your GP:

  • will ask you questions about what symptoms you are experiencing, including physical and emotional symptoms, as well as questions about your lifestyle and personal circumstances
  • will ask how long you have been experiencing these symptoms
  • may carry out blood tests and a physical exam to ensure your symptoms are not the result of other issues, such as iron or vitamin deficiency or an overactive thyroid gland
  • may ask you to complete a screening tool and severity measure for generalised anxiety disorder, called a GAD 7
  • may ask you to complete a screening tool for depression called the PHQ-9, or an IESR tool for PTSD

How is generalised anxiety disorder treated?

Generalised anxiety disorder can be treated in different ways. You can discuss with your GP which method of treatment is right for you. Some treatments include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - a form of psychotherapy
  • Applied relaxation - learning how to relax your muscles in trigger situations
  • Medication - benzodiazepines, SNRIs, SSRIs, b blockers or pregabalin

When should I see a healthcare professional?

You should seek help from a healthcare professional if you notice you have been experiencing symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder over the course of several months.

You should also seek help if you feel your anxiety is preventing you from performing essential daily activities, is causing you to have panic attacks, or is affecting your day to day life.

What is cognitive behavioural therapy?

Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is a form of psychotherapy that can be used to treat depression and anxiety disorders such as generalised anxiety disorder.

CBT is the most commonly used therapy for anxiety disorders. It aims to understand the relationship between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

CBT is typically carried out with a Psychologist, a High Intensity CBT Therapist or Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner in a clinical setting.

CBT identifies and challenges negative thought patterns and helps you to develop skills to manage symptoms as well as finding new ways to reach realistic and balanced thoughts.

What medication is used to treat generalised anxiety disorder?

Different medications can be used to treat generalised anxiety disorder, including:

  • SSRIs - selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This is an antidepressant and works to increase serotonin levels in the brain. It therefore also helps with anxiety symptoms. Side effects can include weight gain, insomnia, sexual problems, blurred vision, dry mouth and indigestion.
  • SNRIs - norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. This is another antidepressant that increases the amount of serotonin and noradrenaline in the brain. Side effects can include drowsiness, constipation, insomnia and dizziness.
  • B Blockers – These work on the fight or flight response system in your body. They stop the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks but not the psychological ones. Side effects can be dizziness, cold hands and feet and fatigue. These can be taken regularly or just when needed. They are not addictive but should not be stopped suddenly without discussing with your doctor first.
  • Benzodiazepines - this class of medication is fast-acting but antidepressants may have higher symptom relief over time. Benzodiazepines should not be used for longer than 4 weeks as they can become addictive. They should not be stopped suddenly without discussing with your doctor first.

How to care for someone with generalised anxiety disorder?

You can support and care for someone with generalised anxiety disorder by:

  • Learning more about generalised anxiety disorder
  • Reassuring them that they are going to be okay
  • Creating an atmosphere of empathy and trust
  • Letting them know they can come to you for support
  • Exercising with them
  • Encouraging them to get out of the house more and to try new things
  • Helping them to seek professional help
  • Being patient and empathetic
  • Helping them develop rational thoughts when they bring up questions about improbable situations
CHAPTER FIVE

Natural remedies for generalised anxiety disorder

There are many natural remedies for anxiety you can try. We can help with:

How can I treat my anxiety naturally? And what are some remedies for reducing anxiety?

How to manage anxiety

Here's some tips for managing your anxiety:

  • Practicing breathing exercises
  • Getting plenty of sleep and exercise
  • Learning relaxation techniques
  • Keeping a diary of your triggers so you can work on them
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts and replacing them with realistic ones
  • Speaking with a specialist or therapist
  • Talking to someone you trust

Keep active

Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of anxiety. Exercising for 30 minutes, 5 times a week can help you relax and worry less by decreasing your stress hormones. Some exercises that can help ease your anxiety symptoms include:

  • Jogging
  • Yoga
  • Aerobic exercises
  • Tai chi

Quit smoking

Smoking can heighten your fight-or-flight response and research has shown that it may increase the risk of anxiety disorders. To reduce your cortisol levels and fight your anxiety, it is a good idea to quit smoking. It may take some time to entirely quit smoking but here are some tips on how to start:

  • Identify your smoking triggers
  • Manage cigarette cravings by finding ways to distract yourself
  • Try nicotine replacement therapy
  • Try behavioural therapy
  • Create a personal plan to quit smoking

Reduce alcohol

Reduce alcohol intake. You may feel relief from anxiety after having a glass or two of wine but the after-effects can increase symptoms of anxiety. Here are some tips on how to cut down your alcohol intake:

  • Set yourself a limit on how much you can drink
  • Inform your friends and family about your plans to cut down
  • Drink a lot of water before having alcoholic drinks
  • Go for drinks with a low alcohol percentage

Reduce caffeine

It is a good idea to reduce the amount of coffee and tea you drink regularly. Research has shown a link between caffeine and anxiety disorders. Reducing your intake can ease your symptoms. Try swapping your morning cup of coffee with an herbal tea, decaffeinated drink or hot chocolate.

Meditation

Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety levels by calming your mind and allowing you to be more present. There are many apps and podcasts available to teach you relaxation techniques to apply to your everyday life when triggers appear. They can also take you on guided meditations if you’re unsure of how to start.

Healthy diet

Eating a healthy balanced diet promotes anxiety relief. Staying healthy and hydrated will alleviate some symptoms of anxiety because artificial foods can cause mood changes and affect blood sugar levels.

You should aim to eat more vegetables, fruits, grains, wholefoods and lean meats. Some foods to incorporate into your diet to ease anxiety include:

  • Nuts
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fish
  • Green tea
  • Turmeric

Chamomile tea

A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found that chamomile tea is great for calming nerves and helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety. You can switch out your morning cup of coffee with some chamomile tea.

Passionflower

Passionflower is a herb that can help with generalised anxiety disorder. It is a sedative that can effectively reduce symptoms of anxiety but can also cause drowsiness. You can create a passionflower herbal tea by adding dried passionflower to boiling water. You can also get passionflower capsules and liquid extracts.

CHAPTER SIX

For parents (anxiety in children)

Have you noticed your child being extra clingy or constantly needing reassurance? This may be a sign of generalised anxiety disorder. No need to worry, our guide can help you spot the symptoms of GAD in children.

This chapter shares helpful information on what may be the cause of your child’s GAD and ways it can be treated. We can help with:

How to deal with anxiety in children? And what causes anxiety disorder in children?

How to know if my child has generalised anxiety disorder?

Unlike adults who may realise that their behaviour or anxious thoughts are irrational, children may not have this self-awareness. There are some signs you can look out for in your child to see if they might have generalised anxiety disorder:

  • They worry excessively about everything, including school performance
  • They constantly seeks reassurance and asks questions about their worries
  • They find it hard to concentrate
  • They appear rigid, restless, irritable and uncontrollable during outbursts
  • They are clingy or cry very often
  • They may experience insomnia or nightmares
  • They may use the toilet often

How is generalised anxiety disorder diagnosed in children?

If you are concerned that your child may have generalised anxiety disorder, it is worth taking them to a GP to get an accurate diagnosis.

Your GP may want to refer your child to a specialist such as a counsellor or therapist. Appropriate medication can also be prescribed by doctors specialised in child mental health.

A diagnosis can be made if one or more GAD symptoms appear on more days than they don’t and if you have noticed these symptoms for at least 6 months. Your GP will ask questions about your child’s history, habits and symptoms to give an accurate diagnosis.

Risk factors for generalised anxiety disorder in children

There are some risk factors that can affect whether your child is more likely to develop generalised anxiety disorder, such as:

  • Gender – girls are more likely to develop anxiety than boys.
  • Genetic factors – the development of GAD in your child may be down to genetic factors:
  • Child’s temperament – a child who is shy, timid and tends to avoid danger is more at risk of developing GAD.
  • Family history and dynamics – if one or more people suffer from an anxiety disorder in the family home and they have not developed effective coping strategies, this can affect a child’s development of GAD.
  • Parental factors – children of parents with anxiety disorders are more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.
  • Exposure to a traumatic experience – abuse and a toxic home environment are strong risk factors of an anxiety disorder.
  • Bullying – if your child is being bullied at school, they are exposed to a threatening situation regularly. This can affect their emotional and behavioural responses and can lead to the development of GAD.

Treatment for generalised anxiety disorder in children

Treatment for generalised anxiety disorder in kids can be either psychotherapeutic or pharmacological.

Psychotherapeutic treatment can include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) - CBT teaches your child how to manage their anxiety by affecting the way they think and behave when stressors appear.
  • Decatastrophizing - this technique helps your child understand their triggers and responses and teaches them that their anxiety responses are disproportionate to their trigger.

Pharmacological treatment can include:

  • SSRIs - Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are antidepressants that increase serotonin levels in the brain.
CHAPTER SEVEN

Disorders linked to anxiety

Chronic anxiety can have an adverse effect on your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to infection and diseases.

GAD can lead to both physical and emotional complications. It is important to identify if you have GAD and treat it appropriately as soon as possible. We can help with:

What are the effects of anxiety on the body? And what complications can come from anxiety?

Depression

General anxiety disorder (GAD) can lead to higher cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone and can cause depressive symptoms. The increase of cortisol and reduction of serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone) can significantly influence mood and lead to depression. In this way, people with GAD are more likely to have depression or develop depression.

GAD symptoms can leave you feeling helpless, which can contribute to the development of depression. Depression is a mental illness that can leave you with a recurring low mood and sadness, a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness, reduced motivation, low self-esteem and even suicidal thoughts. Some physical symptoms include low energy levels, a reduced sex drive and significant changes in appetite and weight.

Substance abuse

You are more at risk of developing GAD due to a history of substance abuse. Similarly, GAD can lead to substance abuse. People with GAD can often feel overwhelmed by their symptoms and turn to substances like alcohol or drugs for relief.

When this happens, an addiction and dependency can form. When drug abuse occurs over a long period of time, this can cause changes to the brain chemistry and can lead to more severe symptoms of GAD.

Physical illness

Generalised anxiety disorder can have an adverse effect on your body. GAD can cause increased levels of stress. Your immune system can be weakened by regular exposure to stress, making you more susceptible to bacterial diseases and viral infections like the flu.

Chronic anxiety can lead to diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Extreme cases of GAD can also cause hair loss. This is because stress can initiate Telogen effluvium - a condition where hair follicles go into a resting state and don’t produce new hair strands.

Social isolation and loneliness

If GAD is left untreated, the symptoms can become overwhelming. This can lead to a feeling of loneliness and isolation when you feel you cannot communicate the symptoms you are experiencing with others.

It may lead you to be fearful or worried about what other people may think of your condition so you retreat from interacting with others. You may also experience excessive amounts of worry about engaging in different activities such as travel and going to events. This can stop you from leaving your house and leads to social isolation.

Suicidal thoughts and behaviours

Studies have found that people with anxiety are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide than those who do not. If you are suffering from an anxiety disorder and you are not being treated with therapy or anxiety medication, you may be at a higher risk.

Important

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the Samaritans helpline by calling 116 123 or NHS 111 for immediate help.

CHAPTER EIGHT

Fear of flying

A common phobia that people experience is the fear of flying. Fear of flying can also be referred to as aerophobia, flying phobia and flying anxiety.

We have some helpful information on how to overcome a fear of flying as well as fear of flying treatment options. We can help with:

How to deal with the fear of flying? And what medication is there for fear of flying?

What is fear of flying?

Fear of flying, otherwise known as flight phobia and aerophobia, is an excessive worry about travelling in an aeroplane. While plane crashes are rare occurrences, they are often widely reported on.

The graphic images accompanied by such coverage is enough to put off many people from getting on an aeroplane. However, this is considered an irrational fear because statistics suggest you are more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash.

What are the symptoms of fear of flying?

Symptoms of flight phobia include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Clouded thinking
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Flushed skin
  • Shaking
  • Irritability
  • Feeling disoriented

How is the fear of flying diagnosed?

A GP will be able to make a formal diagnosis on whether you have a fear of flying and the treatment options available for you. According to Anxiety UK, those affected by flight phobia are likely to have:

  • High levels of anticipatory anxiety before a flight
  • Experience bodily symptoms such as hyperventilation, sweating, churning stomach and dizziness during or just before flying
  • Avoid flying wherever possible
  • Picture catastrophic scenes while flying
  • Possibly an impact on relationships or work due to inability to attend holidays or meetings
  • Worries of losing control when flying

What causes fear of flying?

Fear of flying is a common symptom of generalised anxiety disorder and simple phobia. While some people are terrified of the plane crashing, others struggle to cope with being in an enclosed space without an escape.

There are a lot of potential causes for having a fear of flying. Some people are afraid of flying because they have never flown before, whereas others have had a negative experience related to flying in the past.

This could be experiencing turbulence during a flight, reading about a recent plane crash in the news or feeling uncomfortable in an enclosed space. Often people have a flying phobia without any specific bad experience or trigger.

How to treat fear of flying?

If you want to know how to get over fear of flying, there are different treatments available depending on the severity and type of your flight phobia.

Learning the facts If you’re a nervous flyer, understanding how a plane works and the true risks of flying might calm your nerves. Flying statistics suggest that travelling by plane is considerably safer than travelling by car.

Breathing exercises You can try various breathing exercises to calm your nerves while flying.

Personal strategies Personal strategies such as wearing headphones or choosing an aisle seat help many cope with anxiety during a flight.

Fear of flying medication There are medications available to alleviate anxiety from flying.

Tip

Many airlines allow you to choose where you sit on the plane. Try choosing an aisle seat to lessen feelings of claustrophobia.

What is the best way to get over fear of flying?

The best way to deal with fear of flying varies from person to person. Many like to adopt personal coping strategies such as wearing headphones, sitting next to a window or completing a crossword puzzle, whereas others prefer to take medication to calm their nerves. Those with a more extreme fear of flying might need to attend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Should I take drugs for fear of flying?

Whether or not you need to take drugs to calm your fear of flying depends on the severity and type of your flight phobia. Your doctor will be able to diagnose you and prescribe medication as needed to help you have a comfortable trip.

There are different tablets for fear of flying that you can take. Diazepam (Valium) and Alprazolam (Xanax) are the anti-anxiety medications most commonly prescribed to treat fear of flying.

Medications can have varying effects on different people so there is no definitive drug to treat fear of flying. Your doctor will be able to prescribe you medication that suits your needs.

How to cure fear of flying?

You can get over a fear of flying by exposing yourself to flights while keeping your anxiety under control. Over time, it is likely that you will be able to experience flying without feeling anxious.

CHAPTER NINE

Resources to help with your anxiety

There are plenty of resources available for people who struggle with fear of flying. There are non-profit and charity organisations who provide help adn support to people with flight anxiety and podcasts you can listen to during a flight. We can help with:

What are some podcasts for flight anxiety? And who can I contact about fear of flying?

Charities

There are a number of charities in the UK that provide advice and support to people with anxiety disorders:

  • Samaritans – Offers urgent help. Samaritans is a registered charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland, often through their telephone helpline - 116 123.
  • Anxiety UK – A national charity that supports individuals living with anxiety. As a member, you can access reduced-cost therapy services.
  • Mind – Provides mental health information and support for people who need it. You can also use their infoline to speak to someone confidentially.
  • Young Minds – Provides help and support for young people and parents worried about mental health.
  • No Panic – A charity that helps individuals who suffer from anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, phobias and OCD. This charity also provides support to individuals caring for people with anxiety disorders.
  • Shout – Provides support in a crisis - just text Shout to 85258.
  • Rethink Mental Illness – Provides support for people with mental illnesses, including eating disorders and phobias.
  • The Mix – The Mix’s Crisis Messenger text service is available 24/7 and open to anyone aged 25 or under living in the UK. If you’re in crisis and need to talk, text THEMIX to 85258 or call 0800 808 4994.
  • National Centre for Eating Disorders – NCFED connects people with anorexia, bulimia, binge and compulsive eating, body image issues, and intractable weight struggles with therapists.
  • Feed Your Instinct – an online tool to help assess eating disorders in children.

Podcasts

Meditation is a great way to relieve anxiety. There are many podcasts dedicated to helping people meditate and relieve their anxiety symptoms:

  • Untangle – a meditation series that introduces you to experts and everyday people that have extraordinary stories on how meditation has improved their lives.
  • The Anxiety Coaches – shares relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes that can help relieve symptoms of anxiety, panic and PTSD.
  • Mindfulness Mode – heightens your ability to stay calm and focused.
  • The Anxiety Slayer – supportive conversations on meditation and breathing techniques to keep you calm.
  • The One Mind Meditation Podcast – explores mindfulness and meditation and ways you can apply them to your everyday life to ease anxiety symptoms.
  • Meditation Minis – takes you on guided meditations for anxiety and stress.
  • Welcome to the Overwhelmed Brain – encourages you to let go of worries and stress that may be affecting your anxiety.

Games and apps

There are apps and mobile games specially designed to relieve anxiety, whether it be through colour, puzzles or guided meditation:

  • Colorfy - a colouring book app that gives you various templates for you to colour on the go. You can also upload your own drawings. Colouring books promote anxiety relief by promoting a mindful or meditative state.
  • Inks - this app combines calm colouring with puzzles and games.
  • Breath of light - a visually appealing mobile game that encourages a relaxed meditative state.
  • Calm - the leading app for meditation and sleep.
  • Headspace - an app that teaches you to meditate and provides you with guided meditation sessions.
  • Worry Watch - an app that helps put your anxiety into perspective as it tracks your anxious patterns throughout the day.
  • Talk Space - an app that lets you find and speak to therapists.
  • The Mix website - various apps that help with stress and addiction for people 25 and under.

Videos

Meditation - The Nothing Technique

Mini-meditation

How to cope with anxiety - Olivia Remes

Meditation tips - Dealing with anxiety

CHAPTER TEN

Get same day treatment with Medicspot

We’re on a mission to make healthcare more accessible and convenient. We have over 200 private clinics across the UK - simply find your nearest one and see a doctor in minutes.

Our private doctors can help diagnose your generalised anxiety disorder and provide expert treatment and advice. Find out what treatment is right for you and how you can reduce your risk of developing complications. Start feeling better today. We can help with:

Where is your nearest clinic? And how can Medicspot help?

How it works

The Medicspot diagnostic station allows doctors to remotely listen to your chest, measure your oxygen levels, and take your temperature to effectively diagnose your health condition.

It would be very helpful before your appointment if you can fill out the following screening tools related to the condition you may have:

Generalised anxiety disorder assessment

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescence assessment

Eating and Body Image assessment

Important

Not all of the medication mentioned here can be prescribed by Medicspot due to the nature of the service provided and the potential risks of the medication. You may be referred to a different doctor who can give you the medication if the clinician feels it is more appropriate. Your doctor will be able to advise you more on this at the time of consultation.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

About the authors

Written by Dr Abby Hyams and Maria Munir.

Reviewed by Ri Adel. Last reviewed on 12/12/2019. Next review date 12/12/2022.

Dr Abby Hyams

Dr Abby Hyams grew up in Manchester and did her medical training in Bristol. She has been a GP for over ten years, many of them as a partner in an NHS practice in Hemel Hempstead. Dr Hyams loves being a GP because the wide spectrum of people she encounters every day.

Maria Munir

Maria Munir is a London based Chartered Counselling Psychologist accredited by the British Psychological Society and The Health and Care Professions Council. Maria has over 15 years of experience working in the NHS as well as the private sector. She has trained in Humanistic, Psychodynamic as well as Cognitive Behavioural Therapies and has been working within Primary Care NHS services for the past 10 years.

She is currently working as a Senior CBT Therapist and Clinical Supervisor and has extensive experience of practicing CBT with clients presenting with mild to moderate and severe depression and anxiety disorders. Maria also uses Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing for clients with PTSD as well as third wave CBT approaches such Mindfulness and ACT.

Rihab Adel

Ri Adel is an accomplished Senior Clinical Prescribing Pharmacist with advanced assessment skills. She has had 14 years of experience in both hospital and primary care before focusing on mental health. Her primary care experience relates to medicines optimisation of chronic diseases such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, AF, CHD, HT, and epilepsy.

At Medicspot, Ms Adel plays an integral role in clinical governance and ensuring high levels of professionalism. She also has considerable experience within the NHS 111 emergency service and developing previous training material in primary care, including the mental health field.

Disclaimer

This article is for general information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Medicspot Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. In the event of an emergency, please call 999 for immediate assistance.