Insight into anxiety

What causes anxiety?

Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Worrying about new or difficult situations, such as job interviews or an illness in the family, is normal. These feelings can be useful in the short term, helping people focus on tasks and giving them the motivation to deal with problems. However, for some people anxiety can be intense and continue for a long time. This may stop people from doing the things they want to and affect their quality of life.

Anxiety is a common problem that can be triggered by a number of factors. Research suggests that the tendency to become anxious may be inherited and some people learn to be anxious as a result of their upbringing.

Sometimes it is clear what is causing anxiety - it may be an event that occurred in the past or a current problem. Use of illicit drugs, poor diet and caffeine may also cause anxiety. However, in some people there is no obvious trigger and anxiety may be brought on by a combination of factors.

What are the signs?

Two people talking in clinical setting Anxiety affects people in many ways, both emotionally and physically. Anxiety can be rather general, or can take more specific forms. Some of the more common of these are panic attacks, specific phobias, social phobia and obsessive compulsive disorders. Common symptoms of general anxiety are:

  • Disturbed sleep and tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Expecting the worst in every situation
  • Feels of paranoia
  • Feeling irritable
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Nausea and stomach upsets
  • Sweating
  • Chest pains
  • Rapid or heavy breathing
  • Irregular heartbeats

Panic attacks occur when some of the physical symptoms of anxiety build up rapidly, and they may be accompanied by fears that you will have a heart attack, pass out or lose control.


Whether or not you are receiving medical treatment, it is important to try to help yourself. You may find it helpful to:

  • Exercise
  • Avoid drinking excessive alcohol or caffeine
  • Learn relaxation and breathing techniques (you can get further information from your doctor or the agencies listed below)
  • Talk to other people. If you feel you cannot speak to those close to you, call a helpline or attend a self-help group.


Medication cannot cure anxiety in the long term but it can play a part in treat ment. Tranquillisers can relieve the symptoms of anxiety but they have side effects and can become addictive after four weeks. Anti-depressants can also help and are not addictive but, like other medicines, may cause unwanted side effects. If you have any questions or concerns about your medication, it is important that you discuss these with your pharmacist or doctor.

Psychological treatments

These involve talking and listening and can take place individually or in groups. Research suggests that the most effective of these is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), which helps to control symptoms by looking at the
way people think and behave when anxious. Most self-help treatments are based on this approach. You can ask your doctor for psychological treatments regardless of medication or other treatments. Some doctors have access to these within their surgery or health centre. Psychological treatments are free in the NHS but may not be available locally and there may be a waiting list. Your doctor may refer you to a voluntary organisation or you can
approach one yourself. Psychological treatments can be hard work but many who persevere feel the benefits.

Complementary or alternative therapies

These cover a range of treatments, including yoga and homeopathy. Some people find these help them to relax, but alone they may alleviate the symptoms of anxiety. It is important that you discuss complementary treatments with your doctor and let him/her know if you are using any and the results.

Further help

NHS Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Talking Therapies
If you are registered with a GP in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdon or Fenland, you can access this service via self-referral or through your GP. Call 0300 300 0055. Lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, excluding Bank Holidays. it offers a range of support to help you make changes in your life to improve your wellbeing and to help you cope with stress, anxiety and depression. This includes self-help reading materials, guided self-help (both over the telephone and face-to-face), one-to-one therapies.
To self-refer and for more information about the service, please see our webpage:   NHS Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Talking Therapies

First Response Service
If you or a loved one is in mental health crisis, you can call our 24-hour First Response Service on 111 (option 2). This service is for anyone, of any age, living in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Specially-trained mental health
staff will speak to you and discuss with you your mental health care needs.
More information about getting help in a crisis is available on this webpage:

The Samaritans
Dial 116 123 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week - free from any phone)
More information about the Samaritans can be found on its website here:

0300 304 7000 (lines open 6pm – 11pm, 365 days a year)
More information about SANE can be found on its website here:

Every Mind Matters
More information about anxiety can be found on the NHS website here:

Pdf version of this page:  Insight into anxiety 2018.pdf 1MB

As a patient

As a patient, relative or carer using our services, sometimes you may need to turn to someone for help, advice, and support. 

Patient Advice and Liaison service  Contact the Trust