Anxiety is a feeling of fear or panic. Feeling generally anxious sometimes is normal. Most people worry about something (e.g. money or exams) but, once the difficult situation is over, you feel better and calm down.
If the problem has gone but the feeling of fear or panic stays, or gets evenstronger, that’s when anxiety becomes a problem.
As many as 1 in 6 young people experience anxiety at some point in their lives, so it’s quite common (imagine how many people that might be in your year at school). Although it is common, you should get help if you feel that anxiety is starting to affect your daily life by causing you to:
- Worry a lot.
- Have problems sleeping.
- Feel tired more often.
- Have difficulty concentrating.
- Feel irritable.
- Avoid things you used to like to do.
What can I do to help myself?
Sometimes it can feel like we don't have any control over what we think or how we feel. But by making simple changes to our lives, we can make a real difference to our mental health.
TALK TO SOMEONE
Choosing to talk to someone about mental health problems is brave – and it's worth it, because it's the first step to feeling better.
BOOST YOUR CONFIDENCE
When we’re stressed out, we often feel less confident. Make a list of all the good things about yourself in a diary or notebook. If a negative thought appears, write it down, scribble it out and replace it with something that makes you smile.
LIVE A HEALTHY LIFE
Paying attention to your diet can help you improve your mood. Here are some things to try:
- Reduce how much sugar and caffeine you are getting as this can make the anxiety worse. There's a lot of sugar and caffeine in energy drinks, Coke and other fizzy drinks; try to drink more water instead.
- Try and eat balanced meals at set times. If your body is in a rhythm of regular meals you may feel less anxious.
- Try not to drink alcohol or take drugs as these also increase anxiety. They can make you paranoid, meaning you worry a lot about bad things happening to you and find it hard to feel safe even when things are actually OK.
When we're anxious, we tend to over-think things and thoughts start buzzing around our heads. Meditation and mindfulness is a helpful way to relax your mind. Find somewhere quiet, away from any distractions and let your mind clear, focusing on your breathing. There are lots of apps available with guided meditations to get you started – try Headspace or Calm.
When a problem seems really big, it can feel scary and it can be hard to know where to start in trying to sort it out. First of all, look at what the problem is. Think of all of the possible solutions and write down how you think things might turn out if each one happened. This will help you choose what the best solution would be.
Each time you manage to stop being negative or use new coping skills to manage anxiety, why not reward yourself? Make a list of things you enjoy and choose one to reward yourself with. This can be something as simple as a trip to the cinema (or watching your favourite movie at home), a nice bath, or reading a good book.
What can you do as a parent/carer?
Young people can struggle to say how they are feeling – they may not want to worry you, or they may find it difficult to get the words out. Your child/teenager might feel like you won't understand them, so it's important to make time to listen carefully to how they are feeling. Some children find it easier to write down or even text how they feel rather than speak.
Some of the ways you can help include:
- Spending time with them; just being around others is a simple way to feel more connected.
- Notice changes in their mood and worries; this information can help with the assessment of the problem.
- Join them in relaxation exercises, and encourage activities that boost positive feelings.
- Encourage them to maintain their usual interests as much as possible.
- Give practical support. Friends and family can do things like accompanying your child to do something they feel nervous about or helping them plan a route to get there.
- Join in with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This therapy sometimes introduces coping strategies; friends and family can help to come up with strategy ideas and support them with therapy homework.
If symptoms persist you should contact a GP who may then refer you to the CAMHS service where you may be able to access evidence based approach such as CBT or other support.
Further support, advice and self-help
Young Minds gives free, relevant, practical information about a range of mental health issues in children and young people. It has information about feelings and symptoms, conditions and looking after yourself. It also has some specific information about self-harm and what to do about self-harm.
Minded is a free educational resource on children and young people’s mental health for adults, but can also be really useful for teenagers. It covers lot of topics.
Relate gives specific advice for different types of worries and problems aimed at young people.