Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
North Wales Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service
Anxiety and Worries
We all get frightened or worried from time to time. Fear can be a good thing as it keeps us from getting too close to danger. Sometimes 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 anxiety.
How common is it?
Anxiety is one of the common mental health problems. Nearly 300,000 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 life.
What does anxiety feel like?
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 as physically in your body.
The symptoms of anxiety include:
In your body or physically, you may feel:
In your mind you may:
What different types of anxiety can I suffer from?
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 seek help.
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.
What causes these worries and anxieties?
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 parents separating).
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.
Will I grow out of it?
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.
What can I do?
There is a lot you can do with the help of family and good friends to make you feel better.
If this isn’t enough, you might need more specialist help. Speak to your GP or school nurse, who may send you to see someone from the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
How is it treated?
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 family.
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 unhappy.
Useful Groups and Websites
A Manchester based support service for young people age 13 to 25 experiencing stress
Helpline: 0161 832 0170 (Monday, Thursday and Friday: 12.30pm to 4.30pm)
Community Advice & Listening Line
Mental health helpline for Wales offering a confidential listening and support service.
Helpline: 0800 132 737 Open 24/7
The C.A.L.M. Zone
An organisation aimed at young men who are under stress.
Helpline: 0800 58 58 58 (Saturday - Tuesday: 5.00 pm to 12.00 Midnight)
An organisation that works to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress
Helpline: 0845 766 0163 (Monday to Friday: 9.00am to 5.00pm)