Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear or stress.
It's a common feeling that everyone can have at some stage.
What makes one person anxious might not make another person feel the same. You might worry about exams and school, while others do not.
Anxiety can become a problem if it:
- gets in the way of your normal day-to-day activities
- carries on for more than a couple of weeks
If this is happening, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders can make you feel nervous a lot of the time. This can last for long periods of time and in different situations.
There are many different types of anxiety disorders. Each has their own symptoms.
- generalised anxiety disorder
- social anxiety (social phobia)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- panic disorder
- specific phobias
Generalised anxiety disorder
People with generalised anxiety disorder find it hard to control their worry.
They can get very anxious about everyday situations at school or at home. There is often no obvious reason for them to worry.
Social anxiety (social phobia)
Social anxiety is a fear of social situations.
You might avoid meeting new people. You may feel embarrassed or feel that you are being judged.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder often involves 2 things.
You might have:
- unwanted thoughts and urges (obsessions)
- the need to repeat things (compulsions)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD can develop after a major traumatic event.
You might have bad memories or flashbacks. These can cause significant distress. You might also have nightmares.
You may have a panic disorder if you have regular panic attacks. It can be hard to predict when an attack may come.
Some people may develop agoraphobia as a result of the panic attacks.
Agoraphobia is the anxiety of being in certain places or situations.
You can get it in a place where you feel it will be difficult or embarrassing to escape from.
You might be afraid of having a panic attack that others may see.
A phobia is an overwhelming fear of an object, place, situation, feeling or animal. It can be exhausting and difficult to overcome. An example of this might be an extreme fear of spiders or needles.
Hypochondria is an extreme concern or worry about having a serious illness. You may have a constant worry about your body.
Causes of anxiety
Many things can cause anxiety. This includes stressful situations. These could be school exams or family problems.
Sometimes it's a mix of lots of different reasons. The exact cause of anxiety is not always clear.
Symptoms of anxiety
There are many symptoms of anxiety.
- feel irritable, argumentative or always in a bad mood
- feel worried all the time that something bad will happen
- need to be told all the time that everything will be okay
- be upset with mistakes or changes to your routine
- feel the need to be perfect
- have difficulty concentrating
- have a dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
- have problems sleeping
- get headaches or tense muscles
- be restless
- have a rapid heart rate
- feel sick or have diarrhoea
If you experience more than 1 of these symptoms over a couple of weeks, you may need some extra support. You should also get help if it affects your day-to-day life.
If you feel it's serious
If anxiety begins to take over your life, talk to your GP.
They can refer you to a professional who can treat your anxiety.
Many different forms of therapy are used to successfully treat anxiety. This includes cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
CBT helps people to learn about their anxiety. Through this process, they can learn to manage it.
Advice for parents
If you have concerns that your child is feeling anxious, there are things you can do to help.
Talk to them
If they are willing to talk about their fears and anxieties:
- listen carefully and respectfully
- accept their fears
- do not dismiss or ignore them
- let them know you're there to support them
Ask about their feelings
If they are experiencing a strong emotion, such as anger or fear:
- ask them about it
- listen to them
- do not dismiss their emotions
- show concern for their feelings
You could help them to trace the emotion to where it began. This might help to reduce the overwhelming nature of their feelings.
Problem solving does not mean you should solve the problem for them. Instead, help them break down the problem into smaller pieces.
Help them find possible solutions. Let them think about which one they should try.
Encourage them by reminding them of previous times when they've dealt well with problems.
You should try and:
- focus on the positive
- stay calm
Young people can get lost in their negative thoughts and self-criticism. Try to help them focus on their positive qualities.
Be a good role model
Lead by example. When you think about your son or daughter's wellbeing, think about your own too. Look after your own mental health as well.
If you're anxious, your son or daughter is likely to pick up on your anxiety. They may experience an increase in their own anxiety.