What is it?
Everybody gets stressed or worried from time to time. Sometimes a little bit of stress or worry is a good thing, as it can help us to get things done and motivate us towards our goals. Sometimes though, we can feel too stressed or worry about things too much and this can get in the way of enjoying life and achieving our goals. When this sort of fear or worry is ongoing, even if the situation has resolved, it is called anxiety. Anxiety is a normal part of life and most people feel anxious at some time about certain life situations, even things that we find enjoyable can be stressful like going on holiday.
When we’re young there are many pressures on us that can cause anxiety…
As many as 1 in 6 young people will have difficulties with anxiety as some point in their life. There are lots of words to describe the different types of anxiety, such as:
Worry Fear Panic Stress
Sometimes anxiety can continue for a long time or might be so strong that it starts to interfere with how we live our lives and do everyday things, but there are lots of things that we can do that might help.
What does it feel like?
Having anxiety might mean that we feel frightened, panicked, worried and nervous a lot of the time. It can have an effect on the way we think, feel and behave
We might think…
This might make us feel:
We might also feel physical symptoms such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Light headed/dizziness
- Feeling breathless
- Tight chest
- Stomach ache
- Feeling sick
- Pounding heart
We might behave in certain ways such as:
- Avoiding situations that we are worried about
- Being restless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor sleep/waking through the night
- Not eating
- Having bad dreams
- Angry and irritable
- Crying and clingy
- Complaining of feeling unwell
These unpleasant thoughts and feelings can develop into a vicious cycle which acts like an engine, driving the anxiety and keeping it going…
This mainly affects us during our teenage years and is the fear or worry about being in social situations, going out in public and interacting with other people. It can be thought of as an extreme type of shyness.
If we are experiencing social anxiety, we worry a lot about what other people might think about us and feel very scared that we might be embarrassed or humiliated in a social situation.
Experiencing this will often mean that we avoid social events and situations.
Negative thoughts that we might have with social anxiety are:
A panic attack is a very intense episode of anxiety that seems to occur for no apparent reason. However, it may be that you know exactly what triggered your panic attack, for example, going to the dentist. Panic attacks are very frightening to the person experiencing them and to the people around them. The way that a panic attack can make our bodies feel is so intense that it can make us think that we are physically unwell and have frightening thoughts such as:
What causes it?
There are many different reasons that we may experience anxiety; it could be due to our life experiences, our family history, experiences of trauma or because of our genes and/or our personality. Sometimes we may find the problems started after an upsetting or frightening experience in our life (like being bullied at school, having an illness, loss of a loved one or parents separating).
We may be able to manage one challenging stressful event, but when lots of things happen at once, like parents separating, moving house and changing school, it can become much more difficult.
What can help?
The good news is that there are lots things that we can do to reduce the feeling of anxiety and make us feel better.
Here are some things you could try:
- Learn a bit more about anxiety and how it works
- Listening to music can help us feel more relaxed try the link below or make your own playlist. Choose tracks that make you feel happy, relaxed and positive
- Breathing exercises
You can find out more about these on the Coping Strategies page; the link is on this page.
Apps that can help
All of the below are free on Apple AppStore and Google Play
- Chill Panda – learn to relax and manage worries
- Catch It – helps with managing anxiety and depression
Getting more help
Talking to family and friends about your worries can help you feel more supported.
You might want to talk to someone outside the family like a teacher or mentor at school, or even a friend’s parent. Choose someone you trust and if you find it difficult to talk about how you are feeling, you could write them a letter or send them a text.
Anxiety UK has a confidential helpline Monday to Friday 9.30am to 5.30pm: 03444 775 774 (call cost 7p per minute plus phone company charges).
Big Sean talks about his mental health struggles
Big Sean, the American rapper, has recently opened up on Instagram about his struggles with anxiety and depression. You can read the story over on Newsbeat, via the BBC website.
1. The feelings of anxiety, such as your heart racing, can be very frightening but they are normal responses – breath and it will pass
2. Anxiety is normal, everyone has it, even your friends, family and celebrities too
3. Choose 1 fear/anxiety to work with, don’t have a big to-do list
4. Give yourself a challenge each day and set small goals
5. Think of 5 things you like to do, that can distract you when starting to feel anxious
6. Talk to people about how it is making you feel
7. Look at what you are doing well, there is always a positive
8. The more that you face your fear/worry, the more your anxious feelings will reduce
9. Accept that you may get anxious again, but it is possible to find ways to manage it better
10. Give yourself time; it’s hard work but if you work through it, things may well improve
Real Life Experience
I am 12 years old, and now when asked I didn’t know I had ‘anxiety’, I didn’t know what it even meant.
Things started going wrong after I started secondary school, every morning I woke up, felt sick, and needed the toilet all the time. I blamed lessons I didn’t like, falling out with other friends and told my parents I hated school.
My mam talked to school and they agreed for me not to do some lessons, and that I could go to a teacher when I felt poorly. I still felt horrible and cried every morning, at some points in school I thought I was going to die; my heart was racing and pounding so hard I thought I was having a heart attack.
One day this happened first lesson, I was asked by my teacher to read out loud, I froze, I couldn’t do it, then the heart started, I thought I was going to be sick so I ran out of lesson. After that I couldn’t go into school, my mam was so supportive and agreed I could stay at home until the feelings stopped.
I still didn’t know then that I had anxiety, I was having horrible feelings every day and didn’t know what to do.
School came out to see me at home; they talked through how things have been. I got upset as I knew they were going to say come back to school. They made a referral to CAMHS and said “I think you have anxiety”.
When I started seeing someone at CAMHS, they seemed really nice, however they said we need to get you back into school; I wasn’t keen on them after that.
Together with my mam we agreed 2 goals, one was to do more with friends, and the other was to go out to the shop and buy something alone. I thought I will never do this at all.
I had weekly appointments and each week I was asked to do a challenge as part of home work, I started to feel happier, I even thought about going into school.
My worker did an appointment on what is anxiety, both me and my mam cried, I now know what it is and it’s ME!
I am still working with my worker but I am now back at school nearly full time, I have one more step to take and then I’m done.
I still suffer from feelings of anxiety, however the more I have put myself in anxious places and tasks, the feelings are tiny and I carry on.
This anxiety doesn’t stop me anymore; I am going out with friends I even ordered a McDonalds. Anxiety is normal and you can beat it!
Real Life Experience 2
As a result of having an allergic reaction and needing to use my epipen, I was left with severe anxiety. This later turned into OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), which I used as a way of controlling my anxiety. I thought that by doing something in a certain way, it would stop me from having another reaction and this began to take over my whole life. Since starting the sessions with my CAMHS worker, I have improved massively. From the moment I met them, they made me feel safe, understood, and valued. I was also involved with deciding what we did in our sessions so that it helped me to tackle what I thought was the most important. My CAMHS worker put me at ease and I formed a trusting relationship with them. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my CAMHS worker. I am truly thankful.
Real Life Experience 3
My experience with CAMHS was really positive. They helped me a lot and I really loved them.
At first though, I found it difficult and I was quite reluctant to go to CAMHS. And then for quite a while, it felt as though nothing was really happening. But then I found that my progress was quite rapid and all at once. I therefore I think, if I was to give any advice for anybody going to CAMHS, to just be patient. If you don’t see an improvement straight away, stay with it and trust the process.
What also helped a lot day-to-day was using breathing techniques – I was working around my fingers as I was breathing. I also used this app called ‘WorryTime’ by Reachout.com which I highly recommend.
When I felt I was recovering, it was when I would realise at the end of the day that I had gone the whole day without breaking down. I felt myself getting back to my normal patterns of thinking. It was like I was coming back into my normal life. I was also noticing that I hadn’t written anything down in the ‘WorryTime’ app.
Real Life Experience 4
Telling your mental health story can be a daunting subject. It is very hard to open up and speak about issues that you have been struggling with a long time however once things are out in the open it can be so liberating to be able to talk to others about being unwell without feeling ashamed.
I struggled with really bad anxiety in secondary school due to bullying. Sadly, this resulted in me being unable to attend school in the critical year of year eleven. It got to the point where I physically couldn’t walk through the school doors. I was being sick, not eating or sleeping properly and generally just so stuck in my head, thoughts wheeling 24/7 with no break. When I moved schools things seemed to get better and I felt so happy, what I didn’t realise was that this anxiety would follow me for many years to follow.
Starting college was somewhat daunting for me but I did make a few new friends. However after the first term I was totally drained. I couldn’t eat or sleep again and my mind just kept circling, I had to revise otherwise I was going to fail the next upcoming test! I built a pattern of thinking that certainly wasn’t healthy but I couldn’t stop and couldn’t concentrate on anything. My mind wouldn’t stop throwing the worst case scenarios at me 24/7 to the point where I couldn’t even watch the TV or go in the bath without memorising key notes or trying to repeat phrases from my textbooks. Even when other people were talking about normal everyday conversations I just couldn’t engage. I felt like I was going deeper into a bubble where exams were the only thing that existed. This lasted the whole 2 years of college.
However after talking to teachers who seemed to understand and were so thoughtful I managed to get through my exams. It was with my sheer determination when I sat on the couch crying to my parents that I could no longer go in for my exams that I found some inner strength. Anxiety could not beat me.
It is strange to think that once I had got in that exam room I was fine but that’s the nature of anxiety. It is often invisible and that’s why it often goes undetected.
I’ve learnt that speaking out to others and sharing similar experiences really can help because after all it’s OK not to be OK.
If you would like to share your real life experience of anxiety, please email firstname.lastname@example.org