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Having anxiety can sometimes feel like you're constantly pushing a rock up a hill. But there are ways to cope.

Everyone feels anxious at times. When you are frightened or feel threatened, your heart beats faster, your muscles tense and your body prepares you to ‘fight’ the threat, or to run away from it – ‘flight’. So anxiety is useful when it alerts you to danger, or when it helps you concentrate on something that makes you nervous.

When anxiety becomes a problem

Anxiety becomes a problem when you feel anxious most of the time and when it affects basic things such as eating, sleeping or being able to leave the house. If you are anxious, you may also feel restless and unable to relax, or have no energy or be easily tired. You may panic in certain situations. You may sleep badly or wake up too early in the morning. Your memory or concentration may become poor. You may feel easily irritated.

Anxiety can also show in physical ways. Your appetite or weight may go up or down. You may sweat, or have a dry mouth or palpitations (a racing or uneven heartbeat). You may have regular headaches, or chest or joint pains. You may feel breathless or sick, or have diarrhoea. Your hands may feel cold and clammy or you may feel tingling in your hands or feet.

You can have any of these symptoms for other reasons, but if some of them have been happening regularly, and for over six months, anxiety may be the cause.

Anxiety becomes a problem when you feel anxious most of the time and when it affects basic things such as eating, sleeping or being able to leave the house.
Artwork by Warren Pleece

Anxiety is common

Anxiety as a medical problem affects around 1 in 4 people in the UK. Anxiety can start at any time of life, and can come and go, depending on what is happening in your life. Sometimes anxiety also happens when people are depressed. Some people with epilepsy have a higher risk of anxiety.

Anxiety may be triggered by a particular memory, such as having a seizure, and the fear that it may happen again. How you have been treated in the past – for instance, if you have been bullied or ignored, may make you worry about how people will treat you in the future. Or you may feel anxious without a specific reason. Anxiety can grow very quickly, and you can find yourself worrying about things you can’t control, such as other people’s problems, or worrying about how much you are worrying. Realising that anxiety is a problem is the first step in dealing with it.

Helping yourself – some ideas

Finding ways to manage your anxiety is more useful than trying to stop feeling anxious. These ideas may work best if you do them regularly.

  • Breathe steady breaths – not too deep or too fast. Try it a few times to feel calmer.

  • Focus on something enjoyable that distracts you: music, a picture, an activity.

  • Plan small achievable tasks for each day. How does it feel to get things done?

  • Talk to people. Any social contact can help you feel more confident and valued.

  • Note situations where you feel most anxious. Think about what helped you cope last time.

Sources of help

  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists has information and resources about anxiety.
  • It can be hard to imagine yourself asking for help but looking after your mental health is positive and getting treatment can make a big difference.
  • You can also talk to someone by calling our confidential helpline.
  • Taken from our booklet ‘The Bigger Picture – epilepsy and mood’ which was commended in the BMA Patient Information Awards 2010. 
  • Order your free copy of The Bigger Picture from our online shop as part of our ‘first five free’ offer or by calling the Helpline on 01494 601 400.
  • A free, easy-read booklet is also available, called Epilepsy – how I feel.

Epilepsy Society is grateful to the many people with epilepsy who helped produce this information by generously sharing their experiences.

Coping with anxiety

Coping with anxiety

Katherine McGrath and Liz Donnachie from Epilepsy Society’s psychology department, share their strategies for reducing anxiety levels in Epilpesy Review.