Anxiety can occur when a person feels vulnerable, fearful, nervous or worried about something

boy looking up from phone

What causes anxiety?

Everyone experiences anxiety at some point. It can be hard to identify the cause of anxiety, but usually anxiety happens because we experiencing something that we find difficult to control, uncertain or dangerous.

Anxiety in children and teenagers

When someone is seriously affected by anxiety they cannot control their anxious feelings  and it can really get in the way of their life. Symptoms of anxiety can arise long after the stressful situation has ended and has been forgotten about. For example, just thinking about how stressful exams have been in the past can bring back the anxious symptoms of sickness, sweating and shaking and the negative thoughts associated with the situation e.g. ‘I’m a failure’. Similarly someone affected by social anxiety/phobia might remain on edge, vigilant and unconsciously hoping to avoid stressful situations. The slightest comment by others might be taken as rejection. Perhaps they avoid socialising altogether or find themselves sabotaging relationships that they want to keep, without knowing why or how they do it.

Anxiety symptoms can be complicated and include:

  • Physical sensations: Sweating, chest pains, breathing difficulties, heart racing, shaking, blushing, headaches, a feeling of sickness in the stomach, panic attacks and vomiting.
  • Psychological sensations: Anger, sadness, feeling worried, feeling nervous, afraid, aggression, helplessness, concentration difficulties, feeling numb, repetitive negative thinking or behaviours and feeling continually watched or criticised.

Anxiety can be the main symptom for a variety of other conditions including:

  • Panic Disorder: The fear and physical experience of a range of sensations (e.g. chest pains or uncontrollable thoughts). The sensations are interpreted as signs of impending catastrophe (e.g. ‘I’m about to die’ or ‘I’m going mad’)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Repetitive and persistent thoughts, urges, images and/or repetitive behaviours
  • Social Phobia: The fear of being perceived negative socially
  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder: Excessive worry about a number of things for a minimum of 6 months
  • Health Anxiety: The fear or belief of being ill
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder: Ongoing physical and psychological symptoms caused by one or more traumatic experiences.

How to control anxiety

Practice mindful awareness: Try to stay with the sensations of anxiety and remind yourself that this will pass. At first it will be very hard to do this. The more you try to stay with the anxious feelings and observe them and not avoid them, the easier it will become to manage them. After the anxiety attack has passed, it might be helpful to think about the following:

  • What was happening whilst you felt anxious?
  • What did you think/feel/do just before you felt anxious? Who were you with?
  • How do you usually react to your anxiety sensations and is this helping in the long term?
  • Is there anything you could have done differently to cope better?
  • Many people find replacing negative thoughts/images with more positive ones.
  • What issue might be underlying the anxiety symptoms?

Awareness: Once we are aware of difficulties likely to make us feel anxious then we can take steps to prevent anxiety or deal with it, such as:

  • Self-care: Be kind to yourself, connect with friends, have fun and join a discussion board, talk and learn about your anxiety, listen to music – be Spotified – enjoy/create a playlist, get outdoors and enjoy some natural light.
  • Exercise, Relaxation/Meditation: Some people find that exercise and activities such as meditation, visualisation, breathing exercises and deep muscle relaxation are helpful.
  • Eat well and sleep: The better rested and nourished we are, then the more able we are to cope with pressure. Lack of sleep and poor diet is a vicious cycle that can trigger and exacerbate stress.
  • Talking therapy: If you are finding it difficult to cope, consider meeting with someone trained to help; this might include your GP and/or having talking therapy.

Top clips and stories

Top Apps

  • Calm: Meditation and simple guided mindfulness to sleep, relax and breath
  • InnerHour: self help for anxiety and depression (ages 13-17)
  • HeadSpace: guided meditation (ages 13-25)
  • Pacifica: stress and anxiety
  • Moodpath: log how you're feeling over 14 days

Extra information