A man looking at himself in the mirror.
Would you know the signs?Image by: Movember
A man looking at himself in the mirror.
21 August 2022

What is anxiety?

5 minutes read time

It’s not the best feeling in the world, but that dry mouth, sweaty palms, churning stomach and racing heart that we all feel from time to time is part of being human. Whether it’s public speaking, a job interview, meeting the in-laws for the first time or even flying with turbulence, feeling edgy is entirely normal.

In general, we experience these stressful feelings for a short time (not a fun time) but then they pass. But if that’s normal, why does the buzzword brigade bombard us with all this talk about ‘anxiety’?

What is anxiety?

When mental health professionals talk about anxiety, they’re referring to feelings of stress and worry. These might start as fleeting thoughts but can spread into the body and become so intense and ongoing that they interfere with daily living.

For perspective, whereas that 'on edge' feeling before a stressful event can come and go, anxiety can stop you from sleeping, eating and concentrating for weeks on end. Unlike short-term worry, anxiety can be long-lasting, overwhelming, and at its worst, make the future feel real bleak.

What causes anxiety?

It’s tough to say. Anxiety can be brought on by many things, and it varies from guy to guy. Uncertainty and trying to rehearse for every possible situation before a date can trigger it in some. For others, a big change like a new job, becoming a dad or even anticipating an extended holiday that’s meant to be fun can also bring it on. And for others, it can hit in the middle of the night for seemingly no reason. The list goes on and the responses vary, but as all the self-help gurus tell us, acceptance is the first step.

What does anxiety feel like? What are the symptoms?

The feeling that we experience as anxiety is in fact your body’s way of responding to a perceived threat. It stems from a really useful fight or flight response ingrained in our biology from the caveman days. This causes chemicals like cortisol to rush through us when we perceive a threat, so that we can get ready to act… however, it might not be as useful today in a shopping mall. Unfortunately, it’s not pleasant, and this translates into intense feelings of stress, worry and fear.

Anxiety that’s ‘in the moment’ might include:

  • A fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Uncontrollable or rapid breathing
  • Sweating.
  • An uneasy feeling (butterflies) in your stomach.
  • Dizziness or light-headedness.
  • A dry mouth.

Anxiety left unchecked will often spread into different parts of your life. Where it started with public speaking, a dinner with friends might suddenly evoke the same feelings. These might include situations like these:

  • You can’t sleep at night from stress or worry. Even small things set you off.
  • You try to chill out but you can’t stop ‘overthinking’ things.
  • Committing to a decision feels like you’re bearing the weight of the world.
  • You really just need to be left alone or ‘hide’. Often. Beyond just normal downtime.
  • You might spend too much time escaping in social media, gaming, junk food, porn, gambling, drugs or alcohol.
  • You often feel irritable, snappy or down.
  • You’re often physically tired or feeling worn out.

At its most severe, anxiety symptoms can include feelings of extreme dread and doom, chest or stomach pains, and even panic attacks and hyperventilating.

What can I do about my anxiety?

Anxiety doesn’t go away on its own. ‘Burying’ those feelings or hoping they’ll disappear often doesn’t achieve the desired effect. Here are some ways to help you take control.

Get moving

Exercise is good for your mental health. We all know that. But we don’t always make time to smash it out. While a solid gym session or round of boxing can do wonders, a light jog or even a steady walk can take your mind off things and help with stress release. Sleep – another part of your life that anxiety could be taking a toll on – can also be improved with getting that heart rate up.

Get social

How’s this for a contradiction: social interaction can sometimes cause anxiety, but ironically, it can also relieve it. Meeting (face-to-face or online) with friends that know you well, so you can just be yourself, can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression. However, if that’s not practical, or if a big social occasion feels like too much, then consider something small scale. Even seeing one friend for lunch or coffee can make a big difference.

Get connected

Putting your hand up to ask for help is a no-brainer. These things are always better out than in and getting help to declutter some of this stuff is the quickest way to being your old self again.

If the way you’re feeling is starting to affect your life, then consider talking it out with a counsellor. They’re armed with advice and practical tips that can declutter your mind. However, if you experience enduring, severe anxiety that interferes with day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder, also called Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

It’s not uncommon, so if you think this could be you, it’s time to chat with a healthcare professional. Book an appointment with your doctor or, if you have access to one, a psychologist or psychiatrist. These professionals can help with diagnoses and treatment plans that commonly involve counselling and/or medication, among other things.

How do I help someone with anxiety?

There’s a lot you can do if you’re worried about another guy. Reaching out to him is one of the best things you can do, so if you’re sensing something’s not right, let him know you’ve got his back. Push through the awkwardness or discomfort – it’ll be worth it.

We also know that’s not necessarily an easy conversation, which is why we’ve got some great resources for having conversations about mental health. We even have a tool called Movember Conversations with loads of tips for how to go about it .

You’re not alone

We can’t say this last point loudly enough: you’re not alone in experiencing anxiety.

Living with it doesn’t always mean having a good time, but there are plenty of ways to learn to cope – rather than expending all your energy on fighting it.

So make use of the tools mentioned here. Reach out to a friend. Talk to a professional if you need to. As we said: you’re not alone.