What is Anxiety? What Causes Anxiety? Everything You Need To Know

What is Anxiety? An Apple a Day Alyse Co-cliffI ask each and every patient whether or not they suffer from anxiety and most of the time, my question is met with the a puzzled look. “I’m not sure? What is anxiety?” so today I decided to explain why…


Anxiety is more than just a feeling of being stressed or worried. Anxiety can often include feelings of overwhelm, racing thoughts, irritability and more. Unlike a short-lived response to a stressful situation, feelings of anxiety don’t tend to ‘go away’ and as such, can make it difficult to cope with day-to-day life.


Many believe anxiety is caused by high periods of stress, however, there are other causes of anxiety. These can be a result of/or associated with the following:

  • Stress
  • Traumatic life experiences
  • Poor Economic Conditions
  • Thyroid problems
  • Dysfunctional serotonin
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Caffeine or sugar intake
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Pyroluria
  • MTHFR Gene Mutation/Methylation difficulties
  • Family History of mental health
  • Poor GUT Health/lack of beneficial micro-biome numbers


There are many different types of anxiety and often patients will experience more than one kind at a time. Some of the most common types of anxiety are:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder – where a person worries about lots of different things, most days of the week, for a period of six months or more.
  •  Social Anxiety – A person has an intense fear of being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated, even in everyday situations.
  • Phobias – A person feels very fearful about a particular object or situation and may go to great lengths to avoid it, for example, travelling on a plane.
  • Panic Disorders – A person has panic attacks, which are intense, overwhelming and often uncontrollable feelings of anxiety combined with a range of physical symptoms i.e. shortness of breath, chest pain or dizziness.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – A person has ongoing unwanted thoughts and fears that cause anxiety. They often try to relieve their anxiety by carrying out certain behaviours or rituals i.e. excessively washing their hands.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – This can happen after a person experiences a traumatic event (e.g. war, assault, accident). Symptoms can include upsetting dreams or flashbacks of the event, difficulty relaxing and avoidance of anything related to the event.


Common prescriptions for anxiety include psychological therapy and/or pharmacological prescriptions which include:

  • Serotonin-norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SNRIs): SNRIs work by blocking or delaying the re-uptake of serotonin and norepinephrine from the neuronal synapse. In turn, this elevates serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Given these drugs can also antagonise acetylcholine receptors (a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other cells), common side effects of these medications include dizziness, nausea, loss of appetite, constipation, weight loss, insomnia, headaches, dry mouth and agitation (1).
  • Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRI’s are used to correct low serotonin levels in the brain. Because they are considered selective, they are believed to avoid many of the anticholinergic side effects mentioned above. Possible side effects of these medications include drowsiness, nausea, diarrhoea, headache,agitation, dizziness, insomnia, initial anxiety, and so on (1).
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzodiazepines are used to enhance the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of neurons that cause anxiety. These medications come with side effects like dizziness, headaches, blurred vision, sweating, trouble sleeping, impaired coordination, confusion and an increased risk of falling in elderly patients. (2)


As a degree qualified nutritionist, I work with a number of clients to help manage their anxiety alongside a qualified mental health practitioner. Whilst these steps in no way claim to cure anxiety, they can help to manage your symptoms long-term. You can read more about them here –> “10 Ways To Help Manage Anxiety Naturally”

1 Comment

  1. Kara Brown on Facebook

    Kirsten Burgess this is a good one for us all xx

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Meet Alyse

I’m a qualified Nutritionist who believes an evidence-based approach to modern nutrition is severely under-rated. Patients are so often left in the dark when it comes to health-care and as a firm believer in the old saying “knowledge is power”, my ultimate goal is to provide my readers, students and patients with clear and actionable advice that ultimately helps you reach your full potential.