I am often anxious or scared

In brief

In brief

  • There are various things you can do to prevent anxiety from getting worse.
    • Maintain a healthy diet, exercise and get enough sleep.
    • Keep doing the things that make you feel scared.
    • Write down your experiences of anxious moments. Also write down calming thoughts.
    • Talk about your anxiety with a friend, brother or sister, or with your GP.
  • Dutch healthcare practices in general may differ from what you are used to in your home country. Learn more.
New to the Netherlands

New to the Netherlands?

Moving to a new country with your family can be exciting. It can involve a new challenge, a change of scene, and perhaps a new job. But adjusting to a foreign language and a different culture can take more time and effort than you might expect. This can leave you feeling sad, lonely and left out. It can lead to anxiety and depression. It may also bring on eating disorders and addictions or make them worse. Dutch GPs take these matters seriously. They are trained to help you cope with them, and also with other mental health issues that are not related to your move. If necessary, the GP will refer you to specialized mental healthcare.

What is it?

Is it normal to often feel scared?

Feeling scared is a natural reaction to dangerous situations. When you’re scared, this has an effect on your body. Your heart starts beating faster and you breathe more quickly. Feeling scared is normal and useful when there is danger. It prepares your body to fight or flee from danger (‘fight or flight’ response).

When you often feel scared, this is called anxiety. Anxiety is also normal if you have to deal with difficult situations or problems in your life. For example, problems in your relationship, problems with your children, at work or with your health.
Anxiety is common. It clears up again when the problems are resolved or when you find a way to cope with them.

You can also very often be scared for no apparent reason. So without any danger or problems. This has a big impact on your life: you start avoiding situations or places related to your anxiety. This does not get rid of the anxiety. Instead, the anxiety gets worse. The feelings of anxiety can then develop into an anxiety disorder.

You are more likely to have anxiety if anxiety occurs in your family.

What will I notice?

How will I notice if my anxiety is becoming a problem?

The following could be signs that your anxiety is becoming a problem:

  • You are often startled or scared.
  • You seek less contact with other people.
  • You avoid new or scary situations.
  • You often visit your GP with various physical symptoms. No cause can be found for these symptoms.
  • You have felt tense, irritable, tired or insecure for a long time.
  • You find it hard to concentrate and have trouble sleeping.
  • You suffer from hyperventilation (in Dutch).
  • You feel you need sleeping pills or sedatives.
  • You start drinking alcohol or taking drugs (or drink or take more than you used to).
  • You have symptoms of depression (in Dutch).

How can I prevent my anxiety from getting worse?

If you have anxiety, there are various things you can do yourself to reduce your anxiety and feel better.

Healthy lifestyle

  • Exercise
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Follow a daily routine. For example, try to go to bed and get up at the same times every day. And eat 3 meals a day, at set times.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs.
  • Drink less coffee.
  • Relax. You can do this by breathing calmly, practising yoga, meditation or relaxation exercises. You can also go for a walk or call someone on the phone.
    Seek support from people you trust and explain what is troubling you. Most people will understand.

Keep doing everything as much as possible

By continuing to do the things that scare you, you learn to deal with the feelings of anxiety. This reduces your fear for certain situations. It is good to know that anxiety usually lessens on its own after a while. This might give you the courage to do the things that scare you anyway.

Try to change your thoughts

When you’re scared, you probably automatically think about things that make the anxiety worse. It is important that you learn to change those thoughts. What can you do, for example?

  • Write down your experiences.
    Keep a diary. Write down exactly what happens when you’re scared. What do you think about? What are you scared of? How do you feel? How do you react? And what do you do?
  • Think calming thoughts.
    Think carefully about whether there is a reason to be so scared.
    Then, think about which calming thoughts can help you.
    Write these thoughts down so that you can read them at difficult times. This often makes it easier to deal with anxious moments and stay calm until you feel better.

Talk about it

  • Think about how the people around you react to your anxiety. Perhaps their reactions make your anxiety worse. Discuss this with them.
  • If you use medication: talk to your doctor about whether it can affect your symptoms.
  • Are your symptoms related mainly to your work? Or do your symptoms affect your work? Discuss this with your employer. You can also contact the company doctor (occupational physician) (in Dutch). The company doctor will discuss with you how you can keep working as well as possible. Sometimes changes need to be made at work.
  • If the symptoms are mainly related to problems in your family (in Dutch):
    • Talking about it can help. For example, with a friend or a brother or sister.
    • You can also talk about your worries with your GP. Even if you doubt whether it’s really that bad.

Look up information / take courses

  • There are self-help books and self-help courses (also online) for people with anxiety. They teach you how to deal with your fears better.
  • Are you using a self-help method? Keep in contact with your GP or care provider to discuss whether the self-help is effective enough.
  • If you use drugs or alcohol: find out what effect alcohol/drugs have on your symptoms. You can do this by filling in the alcohol diary (in Dutch).

Treatment of anxiety

When you see your GP for feelings of anxiety, he or she will help you find the reason for your anxiety. He or she will also explain what you can do to reduce your anxiety.

You will come back after 1 or 2 weeks to discuss how things are going. If your symptoms have lessened, no further treatment is necessary.

If the symptoms do not lessen, or actually get worse, you should go back to your doctor sooner. He or she will then determine whether you might have an anxiety disorder or other problems.

Do you have depression or other problems in addition to your anxiety? In that case, the doctor may refer you to a therapist for PST (Problem-solving Therapy). This therapy teaches you to solve your everyday problems yourself.

What happens next

What happens next if you have anxiety?

If you follow these recommendations, there is a good chance that the anxiety will clear up completely. This happens in 75 of 100 people with anxiety.
For people who do not follow the recommendations, feelings of anxiety often develop into an anxiety disorder (in Dutch).

When to call

When should I call my doctor for anxiety?

Contact your GP:

  • if the symptoms get worse
  • if the anxiety has not lessened after 1 to 2 weeks
  • if you are reading a self-help book or taking a self-help course and could use support from your GP
  • if you are reading a self-help book or taking a self-help course with online support, and you feel that your symptoms are not getting better
More information

More information about anxiety and anxiety disorders

You can also get more information (in Dutch) from:

The information on anxiety disorders is based on the scientific guideline for GPs, the NHG-Standard ‘Anxiety’ (Angst), the Multidisciplinary document on ‘Reducing the dose of SSRIs & SNRIs’ (Afbouwen SSRI’s & SNRI’s) and the ‘Care Standard for Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders’ (Zorgstandaard Angstklachten en angststoornissen).

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