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What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the feeling of fear or panic that we all experience at times. It can be a very physical experience, making us feel tense, shaky, dizzy, nauseous or short of breath or giving us butterflies in our stomachs, a racing heart or sweaty palms. It also affects our thoughts and behaviour, for example we tend to avoid things that make us feel anxious.
Problems with anxiety are very common, 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety problem at some point and we all have times when we feel worried, nervous or uptight. Often there is a good reason for this, such as starting something new or difficult, doing an exam, performing or speaking in front of people, or having to tell someone something you think they won’t want to hear. Normally the anxiety goes away once the difficult situation is over, however if these feelings stick around or become stronger even when there is nothing to be worried about, that’s when anxiety can become a problem.
There are different types of anxiety problem.
Feelings of intense anxiety that seem to come out of the blue, they normally last a few minutes and can make people feel breathless, trapped and out of control, or as if they are ‘going crazy’ or about to die. People who have had panic attacks often become very anxious about having another one. This is called ‘fear of the fear’.
When people feel very anxious or panicky about one (or multiple) specific things, which may not be dangerous in itself or cause others to feel anxious – for example, phobias of spiders and other insects are very common, but people can also have phobias of going outside (agoraphobia), of going to school or social phobia which can have a big impact on their lives.
Causes people to worry about lots of different things a lot of the time, this means they are constantly stressed and anxious and it makes everyday life difficult. People who experience social anxiety feel very anxious and self-conscious in social situations and often worry that others are judging them negatively. People who experience health anxiety become preoccupied by and worry excessively about illnesses and symptoms, frequently going to the doctor, self-diagnosing or looking for reassurance online. Sometimes people even experience unexplained physical symptoms which are caused by their anxiety.
What causes Anxiety?
Anxiety disorders have a complex range of causes, including: Adverse Childhood Experiences, which are stressful and potential traumatic experiences in childhood, and which may include:
- Domestic violence
- Parental loss through separation or divorce
- Parent with marked mental health problems
- Being victim of harm or abuse or neglect
- Growing up in household where adults misuse drugs or alcohol
Environmental factors: There are many environmental factors, which may increase anxiety in young people. These include:
- Fears about new challenges that feel scary or overwhelming. These may include: conflict in peer relationships; conflict in intimate relationships; worries about our sexuality; facing the challenges of school work including exams and tests; starting a new school; worrying about money.
- Fears about our health and wellbeing; fears about the health and wellbeing of those we love, such as our parents and other family members; or friends.
- Fears about losing people near to us –for example when parents argue or separate.
- Fears about growing independence and separation from family ties, such as leaving home to go to College; starting work or managing finances.
Personal thinking styles: Some young people, especially those with good imagination, spend more time thinking about possible threats and worrying possibilities. They are more likely to anticipate things going wrong, and worry about possible threats (including very unlikely threats to wellbeing). They think a great deal about ‘worst case scenarios’. It is as though thinking a great deal about the worse thing that could happen equips them better to deal with it. Unfortunately this style of thinking makes young people more prone to anxiety, because more time is spent thinking about things going wrong. It is important to keep fears in perspective, and find an optimistic and hopeful outlook.
Family patterns: Young people, who have parents who are very anxious, and who convey their fears and anxieties to their children, are more prone to anxiety. This is because parents may convey (not deliberately) to children a sense of lack of safety and security, and fears about anticipated (though often unrealistic) threats.
Medical factors: Some medical conditions can lead to an anxiety disorder. This could be a result of the symptoms or as a side effect of medication.