What is anxiety?

What is anxiety?

Disclaimer: this page is for information purposes and gives a quick outline of anxiety to encourage people to attend groups or discuss with others. It is not meant to diagnose anyone, or be definitive (such a thing doesn't exist), please see a Doctor and from our point of view talking about symptoms is more important than labels, which can nevertheless help individuals or others understand the world. 

Anxiety is a diverse set of symptoms that is unique to each individual heavily related to the stress response and depression, that can include:-

  • intrusive thoughts that are very persistent to try and remove, can be about anything
  • excessive worry and rumination where thoughts may go on for hours, days or even weeks
  • panic attacks
  • hypervigilance
  • physical symptoms such as a tight neck, shoulders, stomach churning, sensitivity to aches and pains, tremors and itchy skin.
  • avoiding situations such as some social situations
  • burnout, tiredness, often from having taken on too much
  • often goes alongside sleeping problems
  • can often occur alongside, or especially before or after, depression

We believe that it is much more important to talk about symptoms than individual conditions/diagnoses, however there is some knowledge of particular conditions on anxiety and not others. We also list this for potential members who may think our groups are just for social anxiety or panic attacks (they aren't). So here is a list of the most common forms of anxiety and ones that we see or have seen at No Panic Sheffield.

Social Anxiety

Some would portray this where anxiety revolves around feeling excessively judged before/during/after social situations. Contrary to popular myth this has a lot of overlap with GAD, Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia.

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

Also known as GAD. An excessive worry about day to day things, large or small but which can include money, work, social situations, health and relationships or just day to day tasks.

Panic Disorder

These are people who have more frequent panic attacks and in some cases more severe. They can occur in clusters with gaps or repeating frequency. They can be triggered by a particular situation or after occuring a memory of that attack in a particular place. People can be often whacked out and exhausted for days afterwards and spend a lot of time preoccupied about when the next panic attack will come. People who do not have panic disorder also get panic attacks less frequently, this is very common.


This is a complex condition, but has large similarities with social anxiety. It usually occurs in a variety of social situations, but can be specific. It can mean that people spend long amounts of time at home or in specific places and have a fear of having panic attacks or bad things happening in particular places. In social situations people with agoraphobia can be intensely sensitive to sensations or people staring.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

This is the most diverse anxiety disorder. The similarities with other anxieties are very intrusive thoughts that somehow relate to compulsions, which are often, but not always checking behaviours. OCD goes much further than intrusive thoughts in other people and checking behaviours can completely interfere with a person's life, sometimes taking hours each day. It can include checking doors dozens or hundreds of times a day but checking other things like appliances and plugs, making lists and can have links to tapping, checking behaviours and symmetry and numbers. There are many ways OCD manifests itself.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Is a trauma based mental health condition often involving flashbacks. As it is trauma based it is caused by a wide variety of things, common ones are motor accidents, sexual assault, violence, withnessing violence or death, but can include many other things. Most people who suffer trauma do not get PTSD and of those that do, the condition can appear months or years later. In some cases PTSD can go after a few months. Evidence shows that it is twice as common in women as men and that warfare is a very large contributing factor it isn't the most common cause of PTSD. 

Specific Phobias (not social or agoraphobia)

Intense and irrational fear of a thing or situation. It has a severely limiting effect on peoples' day to day activities and is out of proportion to the danger. Some phobias can be washing, enclosed spaces, visiting dentists and dogs. Many others exist.

Health Anxiety

Some put this on the OCD Spectrum, others regard it as entirely separate. It has a lot of overlap with OCD, but relates to excessive worry about one's health, often when completely healthy. It can be quite prevalent for people in their 20s. It often involves intrusive thoughts about mortality and catastrophising thinking style. Checking behaviours can be very common and have a big effect on a person's life. Was formerly called hypochondria. 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

This is a condition different from eating disorders related to internal perceptions of imperfections with bodily appearance. It is contrary to myth equally prevalent in men and women. In men a subtype called muscle dysmorphia is currently getting a lot of publicity but for men and women features relating the face and skin are common including nose and chin. Often someone with body dysmorphia will have more than one area of the body that is distressing to them.

Hoarding Disorder

Is a compulsion to acquire objects and great difficulty with parting with objects. These objects can be very specific or low in monetary value that others consider worthless, so considerable stigma surrounds the condition. It was previously listed as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and some people still say it is one of a few conditions on the OCD spectrum.

Perinatal/postnatal Anxiety/depression

It can occur before giving birth as anxiety and after giving birth postnatal depression is better known, anxiety is often along side it and some time after. Perinatal anxiety can also take a number of different forms. Postnatal depression is a serious physical condition and is not the 'baby blues' which usually passes after a couple of weeks and quoted as high as effecting up to 80% of women in some sources. Post natal depression may be more common than one in eight mums. The NHS notes that around 1 in 10 fathers can also get depression after their partner has given birth. 

Some other conditions that are often alongside anxiety (referred to as comorbid) are depression, autistic spectrum disorder (including what was known until 2013 as Asperger's Syndrome), ADHD, bipolar disorder and various long term conditions. Other conditions such as eating disorders and schizophrenia whilst more unusual can also have people with anxiety/depression as well.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are unhealthy relationships with food and disordered thoughts relating to food. They can take the form of Anorexia (eating very little and fearing weight gain), Bulimia (trying to get rid of food that has been eaten by self-induced vomiting or over-exercising), or binge eating disorder (eating a large amount of food in a short time). They can affect both a person’s physical health and mental health. Eating disorders can be a way of coping with emotions or regaining a sense of control. They are serious mental health problems, and they have the greatest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders. There are stereotypes about the type of person who typically suffers with eating problems, but these stereotypes are nothing more than myths. Individuals of any gender, shape or size can suffer from disordered eating. A person can be a healthy weight but still struggle with an eating disorder, and they may still experience disordered thoughts relating to their body image and food. Eating problems can often accompany other disorders, such as anxiety and depression. People with eating disorders may suffer from anxiety relating to their body image, eating foods that they are afraid of, and eating in front of others, for example. They may also isolate themselves from others, and become socially withdrawn. Early intervention has been shown to be key for treating these illnesses.