Anxiety in young people

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear or stress. It’s quite a common feeling everyone experiences at some stage. But, if it persists, it can create problems for your son or daughter. 

Anxiety is also a normal emotional response to stressful situations.

Youth Mental Health AnxietyWhat makes one person anxious, doesn’t always cause the same response in others.

Some young people worry about exams and school, while others do not. Meeting new people is stressful for some, while others relish the opportunity.

Anxiety vs anxiety disorder

While anxiety is an everyday feeling, it becomes a problem if it interferes with young people’s normal day-to-day activities and persists for more than a couple of weeks. If this is happening to your son or daughter, they may be experiencing an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety disorders can make someone feel nervous a lot of the time, for long periods of time and in a lot of different situations.

Types of anxiety disorders

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms.

  • Generalised anxiety disorder occurs where there are excessive and uncontrollable worries, not specific to any one thing.
  • Social anxiety or social phobia involves a fear of social or performance situations (such as meeting new people) in which an individual may feel embarrassed or like they are being judged. People with social anxiety commonly avoid social situations.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involves unwanted repetitive thoughts, images and/or impulses (obsessions). It also includes repetitive, routine behaviours called compulsions.
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder sparked by a major traumatic event, such as rape or a car accident.
  • Upsetting memories or flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance of situations which trigger memories, feeling “on edge”, “blunting” of emotions, nightmares and difficulties sleeping can occur.
  • Panic disorder occurs when you have frequent unexpected unpredictable panic attacks. Some people may develop agoraphobia as a result of the panic attacks.
  • Agoraphobia is anxiety related to being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing. It is often related to the fear of having a panic attack that others may witness. It usually leads to avoidance of certain places and situations.
  • Specific phobias involve intense and ongoing fear of particular objects or situations e.g. spiders, needles.
  • Hypochondria refers to an extreme concern or worry about having a serious illness. People with hypochondria have a constant fixation with their body; self-examining and self-diagnosing.

What causes anxiety?

Many things can trigger anxiety, such as our environment, stressful situations like school exams, problems within the family, or a traumatic event.

Sometimes it’s a combination of lots of different factors and the exact cause of the anxiety is not always clear.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can affect young people’s physical and mental health. It might be short lived, or stay for a long time.

Taken on their own, individual symptoms of anxiety are things that we all experience from time-to-time.

Some of the symptoms:

  • irritable, argumentative or frequently in a bad mood
  • worried/constantly feel something bad will happen
  • often asks unnecessary questions or requires constant reassurance
  • gets upset with mistakes, or with a change of routine
  • perfectionism or difficulty concentrating
  • dry mouth or difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty getting to and staying asleep and/or nightmares
  • muscle tension and headaches
  • restlessness, trembling, shaking
  • rapid heart-rate and breathing or sweating, dizziness, headache
  • feeling sick: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea.

If your son or daughter experiences more than one of these symptoms over a couple of weeks, or if it affects their day-to-day life, they may need some extra support.

Supporting your son or daughter

The following tips are a general set of recommendations on how to support your son or daughter if they’re feeling anxious.

  • Talk to your son or daughter – if they’re willing to talk about their fears and anxieties, listen carefully and respectfully. Acknowledge their fears, don’t dismiss or ignore them. Let them know you’re there to support them.
  • Ask about their feelings – if you see your son or daughter is experiencing a strong emotion, ask them about it; “You look worried, is there something on your mind?” or “It sounds like you’re really angry, would you like to talk about it?” Listen carefully, do not dismiss their emotions and show concerns for their feelings. By helping them to trace the emotion to a specific situation, you may help to reduce the overwhelming nature of their feelings.
  • Problem solving – this doesn’t mean solve the problem for them. Instead, help them break down the problem situation into smaller, more manageable steps. Help them identify possible solutions and weigh up which one might be worth trying

Encourage your son or daughter by reminding them of previous times when they’ve dealt well with problems.

Be a good role-model

Demonstrate through your own behaviour how to take care of yourself. When you think about your son or daughter’s wellbeing, think about your own too.

  • Focus on the positive – young people can get lost in their negative thoughts and self-criticism. Try help your son or daughter focus on their positive attributes and the good aspects of a situation.
  • Stay calm – young people pick up on their parent’s emotions. If you’re anxious, your son or daughter is likely to pick up on your anxiety and experience an increase in their own anxiety.

If you feel it’s serious

Seek professional advice. If anxiety begins to take over your son or daughter’s life, affecting their day-to-day activities, seek professional advice from your GP. They should be able to recommend and/or refer your son or daughter to a professional specialising in treating anxiety in young people.

There are many different forms of therapy that have resulted in successful treatment of anxiety.

Cognitive behavioural therapy is just one of these. It is considered effective in addressing anxiety disorders. This approach helps young people to examine their anxiety, anticipate situations in which it is likely to occur and understand its effects. Through this process, a corrective approach to the problem is developed.

Read more information about professional supports available.

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