||What does anxiety feel like?
We all get frightened or worried from time to
time. Usually fear is a good thing as it keeps us from getting too
close to danger. Sometimes though, we can feel frightened or worry
about things 'too much' and this can get in the way of enjoying
life. This sort of fear or worry is called
How common is it?
Anxiety is one of the common mental health
problems. Nearly 300 thousand young people in Britain have an
anxiety disorder. So you are not alone. Lots of people however,
suffer in silence. It is important to recognise your problems and
seek help especially when it starts affecting your everyday
When we feel we are in danger, our brains tell
our bodies to get ready to run away quickly. This means that if you
have anxiety you may feel this in your mind, as well physically in
The symptoms of anxiety include:
In your body or physically you may
- heart racing
- short of breath
- ‘butterflies’ in the stomach.
In your mind you may:
- feel upset
- feel worried
- unable to relax
- have difficulty in concentrating.
What differenf types of anxiety can I
||What causes these worries and anxieties?
Anxieties are grouped based on what the fear
or worry is about. The groups are also helpful in understanding
your difficulties and treating them.
Fears and phobias
You might remember being scared of the dark or
insects when you were little. This is normal and as we get older,
we usually grow out of these fears or are able to manage it without
worrying too much about it. Sometimes fears about particular things
(e.g. needles, animals) or places (e.g. darkness, heights) can be
really strong and don’t go away. They stop you from doing normal
things and interfere or take over your life. These fears are called
phobias. We may need extra help to cope with a phobia.
Some people feel anxious most of the time for
no obvious reason. When it is really bad, it can stop you
concentrating at school or having fun with friends and family.
Sometimes feeling anxious and sad can go together. You may need
help to be able to feel and cope better.
Separation anxiety is feeling worried or
anxious when you are away from your parents/family/guardians. It is
normal for very young children to feel scared and worried when they
are not with the people who normally look after them. If it is
still a problem when you are older or a teenager, this can make it
difficult to go to school or go out with friends. If this happens
it is best to get help.
In simple terms this is really bad shyness.
You may be comfortable with people you know well, but find it very
worrying to be with new people, places or social occasions like
parties. Standing up in class or assembly can be extremely
difficult for you, as you are worried about making mistakes or what
others think of you. This means you may tend to avoid situations
which involve other people. When this happens, it is important to
A panic attack is an extreme episode of
anxiety that seems to occur for no reason. It may feel as if your
mind has gone totally out of control. Panic attacks have a start
and a finish; they are not continuous, although you might worry
about when the next one will happen.
During an attack, you can have physical
feelings of anxiety (see above) along with frightening thoughts,
like thinking you are going to die, or “go mad”. It is rare for
younger children to have panic attacks on their own, without
another form of anxiety like those mentioned above. In teenagers
this becomes more common. When the fear of having one or frequent
attacks stop you from doing your daily routine or enjoying life,
this is called panic disorder.
Some children and young people may have other
types of anxiety, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or
obsessive compulsive disorder.
We do not really know what causes this
illness. However, sometimes you may find the problems started after
upsetting or frightening experiences in your life (like being
bullied at school, having an illness, loss of a loved one or
You may be able to manage one thing, but when
lots of things happen at once, like parents separating, moving
house and changing school, it can become much more difficult.
Anxiety tends to run in families, so if
someone in your family is known to worry a lot, you may be more
likely to worry as well. Some of this will be passed on in the
genes, but you may also ‘learn’ anxious behaviour from being around
anxious people. If your family or friends are anxious or harsh, it
can make your anxiety worse. In this case it may help to talk to
them about it.
What can I do ?
How is it treated?
Some people may grow out of anxiety, but a few
may still experience anxiety when they grow up. The good news is
that it is treatable - this means that there are things that can be
done to reduce feelings of anxiety.
There is a lot you can do with the help of
family and good friends to make you feel better.
- Try to give yourself more time to get used to any changes that
happen, like at home or at school, as change can be more difficult
when you worry a lot.
- Check out whether you are picking up on someone else’s worry,
rather than it being just yours.
- Get support from good friends and family; you might also want
to talk to someone outside the family like a teacher or
The type of specialist help offered here will depend on what is
causing the anxiety. Usually it will be a form of talking therapy,
like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT can help you
understand and deal with the causes of your anxiety and to find
strategies for coping. You may be seen on your own or with your
Occasionally, once you’ve tried a talking
therapy, you might also be given a medicine to help if your anxiety
problem has not got much better. A type of antidepressant, called
an SSRI, is usually used.
Living with anxiety problems is difficult, but
it is treatable and doesn’t have to keep making you feel
Dave, age 12, talks about his fears of
||Neela's story, 15
One of the worst things about my phobia was that I had to keep
it secret. When my friends invited me to their birthdays, I had to
say I was busy, because I couldn’t go anywhere near balloons.
I’ve always disliked balloons. But last year I decided that my
fear was out of control, and I had to do something about it. I went
with my mum to see our GP, who sent me to a specialist. A couple of
months later, we had the first of a course of eight ‘Cognitive
Behavioural Therapy’ sessions.
The therapist began by telling me that plenty of people have
phobias and that balloon phobia even had a name (‘globophobia’). It
really helped to know that other people had the same problem.
She asked me about my early life and tried to work out how my
phobia had started. We talked about how I react to different
stressful situations, marking how bad I’d feel on a scale of 1 to
10. She explained that my fast pulse rate, and my feeling hot and
tense, and needing to escape were a normal response to stress. She
taught me how to control my breathing, relax and talk to myself
positively to control my anxiety.
Gradually, each week, I had harder things to do – at first just
touching balloons, but by the end of the course - bursting them. On
the way to the sessions I often got quite upset, because I knew I
was going to have to face my greatest fear. It was hard work, and I
nearly gave up.
I still don’t like balloons, and would rather not have them near
me. But thanks to the therapy, I can now accept invitations knowing
that I can deal with my fears.
I don’t know about you, but I have always been
a worrier, like my grandmother. Every year, we would plan our
family trip to India and it would start … worrying about the plane
journey … worrying about falling ill, … and just before take-off I
would get those horrible “butterflies”, sweaty hands and the
feeling that I couldn’t breathe. Sometimes I would feel my heart
beating and I thought I was dying or going “crazy”.
Last year, before my exams, my worrying got really bad. The
pressure in secondary school has been high and everyone in my
family has always done well and gone on to University, so I knew I
had to study extra hard. It got so bad that I couldn’t concentrate.
I felt shaky and nervous at school and even started to cry most
days. I wasn’t sleeping well because I was so nervous and was too
embarrassed to tell mum and dad.
I ended up pouring my heart out to the school nurse which was
the best thing I ever did. She got in touch with my mum, and after
seeing the GP, I went to see a team of specialists at the
Don’t worry… I didn’t want to be the “girl who sees the shrink”
either but it’s not like that. The team can have all sorts of
people like doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers. They
reassured me and helped me and my family to see that my symptoms
were real (just like when you have asthma). I went on to have a
talking therapy called CBT. This involves a number of weekly
sessions with the therapist. I didn’t even need to take medication.
Although, I will always be a worrier I feel so much better, and I’m
even looking forward to this year's India trip."
Anxiety UK - A charity
providing information and support for people suffering with anxiety
friends - Mental health problems are common. This
website is all about helping you to help your friends who might be
YouthNet UK - Online
charity which guides and supports young people, enabling them to
make informed choices, participate in society and achieve their
have also developed HeadMeds gives
young people in England general information about
medication. HeadMeds does not give you medical
advice. Please talk to your Doctor or anyone else who is supporting
you about your own situation because everyone is different.
Useful CD: Rays
of Calm, Christiane Kerr, Audio CD/Audiobook: CD from the
"Calm for Kids" range
created for teenagers. It talks through various relaxation
techniques and visualisations designed to promote a sense of calm
and wellbeing and to help teenagers deal with stress.
Ipser JC et al., (2010): Pharmacotherapy for anxiety disorders
in children and adolescents,
Cochrane Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Group. Intervention
O'Kearney RT, Anstey KJ, von Sanden C. Behavioural and
cognitive behavioural therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder in
children and adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
2006, Issue 4.
Evidence-based guidelines for the
pharmacological treatment of anxiety disorders, (2005): British
Association for Psychopharmacology.
Green, H., McGinnity, A., Meltzer, H., et al.
(2005). Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain
National Institute for Health and Clinical
to self help resources for generalised anxiety disorder
Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family
Public Engagement Editorial Board (CAFPEB).
With grateful thanks to Dr Eleanor Leigh, Dr Shobha
Puttuswamiah, Dr Virginia Davies, Dr Vasu Balaguru, and Thomas
This resource reflects the best possible evidence at the time of
© March 2017 Royal College of
Due for review March 2020.