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Enabling ServicesPart of Student Services


Anxiety is a normal feeling, usually temporary, experienced by everyone from time to time.

Anxiety is a response to a stressful situation and helps motivate you to deal with it.

When we perceive danger, our bodies rapidly produce adrenaline, which primes us to respond. This is known as the fight, flight or freeze response. The mind considers the worst-case scenario and our body prepares to tackle it. It's an unconscious process that regularly occurs in each of us.

When is anxiety a problem?

Anxiety only becomes a problem when the normal response is exaggerated or when it occurs in the absence of any real threat. People suffer from anxiety because they think situations are more dangerous than they really are.

However, for some people, anxiety can become a serious problem. Anxiety that continues for days or weeks can affect your ability to lead a normal life, make you unhappy, and prevent you from studying properly.

Sometimes, a person experiencing intense anxiety may describe or think of it as a "panic attack". Strictly speaking, a panic attack is a physical experience in which you misinterpret your physical symptoms and which lasts for only a few minutes.  You may also feel extremely anxious before, after or because of a panic. Visit our web page on panic for more information.

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety is made up of the symptoms that a person feels, what they are thinking and what they do in response.  According to the NHS, physical symptoms are caused by stress hormones (adrenaline) being released in your body.

Remembering that most anxiety is normal and temporary, typical symptoms may include:

  • Pounding heartbeat or palpitations (irregular heartbeat)
  • Faster breathing
  • Increased sweating
  • Headaches, muscle tension and chest pains
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling sick or a "butterflies" sensation in your tummy
  • Needing the toilet more often

Psychological symptoms can include:

  • Feeling worried or uneasy much of the time
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Negative thoughts, constant focusing on the worst case of what might happen
  • Difficulty sleeping, making you feel tired all the time
  • Being irritable
  • Being constantly alert, on edge or unable to relax
  • Needing frequent reassurance from others
  • Feeling tearful, or voice feeling shaky

You may also find your relationships and social life are affected if you avoid situations that you associate with raised anxiety. You may become more isolated, or alternatively more dependent on others, feeling you need to be with someone all the time. You may withdraw from activity, or you may make yourself constantly busy in order to avoid anxious thoughts.

Anxiety with a specific cause, such as an assignment deadline or a coming exam, is usually temporary and can be managed if you learn to recognise and understand it and then take appropriate action to help yourself.

When to see someone about anxiety

Anxiety that continues for several days or weeks may affect your immune system or lead to more serious physical problems. If you have been experiencing continuous anxiety for two weeks or more and it is affecting your life and ability to study, you should talk to someone about it.

  • The NHS offers excellent information on mood, anxiety and wellbeing, and we recommend that you explore their web pages and follow the advice you find there. We also recommend self-help.
  • The NHS Steps to Wellbeing service offers effective treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for common mental health problems, for example anxiety and depression. Steps to Wellbeing clinics take place at the University, and you can refer yourself. Similar services such as iTalk and Talking Change are available in surrounding areas and across the country.
  • Exercise is known to relieve stress and so may help you feel less anxious. The University's Sport and Wellbeing service run a wide range of facilities and activities in and around Southampton.
  • Read our information about wellbeing and stress for suggestions about how to counter stress and develop resilience. Enabling Services runs workshops and courses on topics such as relaxation and mindfulness.
  • If exam stress is the main problem, find out more about our suggestions for coping.
  • If you have tried the self-help advice available through this and other web pages but anxiety is still affecting you badly, Enabling Services can help. You may wish to come to a drop-in session for a chat with an advisor who will help you decide on the best course of action.

NHS self-help guides

A range of self-help books (available also as MP3 downloads) covering such topics as Anger, Anxiety, Bereavement, Alcohol and You, Depression, Eating Disorders, Panic, Social Anxiety and Stress.

NHS audio guides are also available.

Five Areas Online

This site gives practical advice about common problems such as low mood, anxiety, panic and stress, as well as physical health problems and problems such as smoking and drinking. Students have free access to online books and accompanying worksheets, which have been designed to communicate key points that can help you to make useful change.

Have I Got a Problem?

Have I got a problem? is a website developed for anyone interested in learning more about mental health or addiction issues or concerns. There is lots of video channels to choose from with hundreds of downloadable resources for you to read. All the videos and resources are free to access.

Living Life to the Full

Free online skills course for people feeling distressed or anxious, which aims to help people understand their difficulties and make helpful changes to thinking, activities, sleep and relationships.

Mental Health Foundation Wellbeing Podcasts

Free downloadable audio podcasts to help you relax, sleep and improve your general sense of wellbeing. They're designed to fit around your lifestyle and provide an introduction to the skills and techniques that can help you live a mentally healthier life.

SAM - a self-help anxiety management app

SAM is an application, developed at the University of the West of England, to help you understand, monitor and manage your anxiety in a range of situations.

The app will allow you to:

  • Monitor your anxiety levels and visualise your anxiety profile over time
  • Discover and apply self-help techniques including multimedia and mini-games
  • Share anonymous advice and ratings with the user community (the "social cloud")

SAM is free to download to your Android phone or iPhone.

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