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Anxiety is a common response to stress and its symptoms can be as mild as a feeling of unease or worry, or as severe as having a panic attack.

Although everyone can experience the effects of anxiety from time to time, if you’re HIV positive you are much more likely to experience this regularly. The Yale University AIDS Program found that as many as 38 per cent of people with HIV will encounter an anxiety disorder. 

Common symptoms of anxiety include: 

  • excessive worry
  • feeling on edge
  • difficulty concentrating
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • muscle and/or jaw tension
  • disturbed sleep
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in libido
  • increased desire to drink alcohol or use drugs
  • rapid heart rate, sweating and flushes.

You can explore ways to help overcome these by talking with your doctor, friends or family.

It is perfectly normal to experience some anxiety with the ups and downs of managing a long-term condition such as HIV. You may find that your anxiety levels rise in the months following your diagnosis, for example, or as you begin anti-HIV treatment.

It is important to remember that anxiety itself is not a mental health disorder but a natural response to fear and uncertainty. Anxiety has evolved to help protect us from danger but when it becomes extreme or uncontrolled it can lead to an anxiety disorder, which can have a negative effect on your life and health.

An anxiety disorder can arise from a set of circumstances and reactions that are unique to you, so treatment usually matches this with a combination of counselling or psychotherapy and medication to help you through a tough period.

If you regularly find yourself experiencing anxiety, learning to recognise what triggers those feelings could be a good way to help reduce them. For example, if going to see your HIV doctor for your latest CD4 count makes you feel uneasy then you could research how CD4 counts work – understanding something that makes you feel helpless can help you to deal with it.

Reducing the amount of caffeine you drink and taking regular exercise can also help reduce levels of anxiety. The organisations listed to the right all specialise in this type of problem and will work with you to find a solution.



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The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 31/10/2012 by P. Kelly

Date due for the next review: 31/10/2014

Content Author: S. Ellis

Current Owner: S. Ellis

More information:

Basu, S., Chwastiak, L.A. & Bruce, R.D. (2005) Management of Depression and Anxiety in HIV-Infected Adults. AIDS 19(18):2057-2067

Conquering Anxiety, The Body (2007)

Anxiety, NHS Choices (2010)

Top four needs of people with HIV in the UK all related to mental health, NAM aidsmap (2009)

Anxiety UK

No Panic