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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. Anxiety can also affect our sleep and appetite, and can make us feel down, depressed or unable to concentrate.
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:
Panic attacks are 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’.
Phobias are when people feel very anxious or panicky about one (or more) specific thing, 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.
Generalised anxiety 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; health anxiety is when people 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 the anxiety.