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What is Anxiety?


Anxiety is a normal emotion. Everyone feels anxious from time to time. Most people feel stressed when facing a problem at school, before taking an exam or when making an important decision. Our body prepares us for these challenges by releasing a hormone called adrenaline. The hormone causes a ‘fight or flight’ response that keeps us alert and ready to react to the challenge. In moderation, anxiety is a useful tool that helps us face stressful situations. However, having too much anxiety can be debilitating.  Excessive anxiety can cause such severe distress that it interferes with your ability to lead a normal life.

how much Anxiety is 'normal'?


We all feel anxious at times. In additional, each of us has different tolerance levels of stress we can cope with. Some kids are naturally more anxious than others and are much more prone to worrying and stressing out. However, if your anxiety is getting in the way of your day-to-day life and is having a significant effect on your school life and relationships, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.


Another way to determine whether your anxiety levels fall within the range of normal is whether you can identify the source of your anxiety.  If you are anxious because end-of-year exams are approaching or you are nervous about performing well at an upcoming debate, it is normal to feel some anxiety. However, if you can’t stop worrying and you have no idea why or what you are worrying about, you may have an anxiety disorder. Feeling anxious for no apparent reason is an indication that you are dealing with more than normal anxiety. If you are anxious all the time but you can’t pinpoint your anxiety to anything substantial, you shouldn’t just wait for it to go away. Talk to your parents about it so that they can get you professional support to help you.

HOW CAN anxiety impact your life?


Having anxiety is very frustrating and scary. Imagine being excited about going on a journey you have been looking forward to. Imagine packing your belongings, loading up the car, getting into the driver’s seat and turning the key, only to hear the car sputter and stall. Imagine sitting, trapped in the car, a car that is going nowhere, while you watch the whole world pass you by. Your dreams, your ambitions, your goals - everything seems so out of reach because you can’t engage or participate or join in and live the life you want to live. 

what does anxiety feel like?


Anxiety can feel very unpleasant.  An anxiety attack can include the following:


  • feeling shaky, sick or having stomach cramps

  • feeling dizzy or faint

  • breathing fast or finding it hard to breathe (hyperventilating)

  • increased heart beat (palpitations), sweating, tense muscles

  • feeling like you might die

  • feeling an unshakable and irrational sense of dread, apprehension and fear

  • feeling chest pains

  • being unable to concentrate

  • experiencing excessive sweating, chills or dry mouth

  • feeling exhausted and having trouble sleeping (insomnia)


These reactions are designed to make us feel uncomfortable so that we are alert and able to respond quickly to danger.  However, if anxiety happens too often and/or at the wrong time, it can affect our behaviour and thoughts in negative ways that can be debilitating.

what causes anxiety?


This is a difficult question to answer because anxiety is usually not caused by one thing alone. The causes of anxiety can be complicated.


Personality type and temperament play a key factor. We all have different levels of stress we are comfortable with. Some kids are simply born more anxious than others.


Our experiences also play a key role in whether we suffer from anxiety. If you have had difficult experiences, they can also cause anxiety. For example, if you have been bullied, you are likely to be anxious about it happening again. Other examples, include your parents divorcing, a bereavement, injury, physical illness, worries about money or friendship problems.


In addition, some conditions such as autism, Asperger’s and ADHD can have increased anxiety as part of the symptoms (which may be due to neurological differences in the way the brain functions). 

what problems can anxiety lead to?


Severe anxiety can be crippling and far-reaching. It can rob you of the life you would like to lead. If you are really anxious you may not want to go out in public, may find it hard to socialize with friends, take part in activities or meet new people. It can negatively affect your relationships and restrict the way you live your life. Below are some signs that you may have a serious anxiety disorder. You are:


  • fearful of leaving the house,

  •  socially withdrawn

  • overwhelmed by feelings of extreme and unwarranted fear of particular situations or things

  • exhibiting compulsive or repetitive behaviors

  • having trouble coping in school

  • depressed or are having suicidal thoughts

Different Types of Anxiety:


School-based Anxiety – If you are prone to anxiety, it is very likely that the source of most of your anxiety is school-related. Whether you are anxious about schoolwork, bullying, friendship issues or just the school environment generally, it can all be very overwhelming.


Social Anxiety –  If you suffer from anxiety, it is likely that you will be anxious about social situations. You may feel scared about being in social situations, dread being in groups and find it hard to talk to friends or people you don’t know. You may also feel very self-conscious and think people are looking at you or judging you negatively. These fears may also be compounded by physical symptoms such as shaking, breathing fast or sweating in social situations. Finally, to make matters worse, you may even start worrying about past social incidents, which stresses you out even more.


Fears and Phobias –  It is normal for young kids to be afraid of particular things. For example, young kids tend to be afraid of the dark, of being on their own or of monsters and ghosts. Yet, most kids eventually grow out of these fears as they get older.


People with anxiety may not grow out of their childhood fears or may develop new fears. If these fears persist and begin to affect their daily life, they may develop into a phobia. Common phobias in older kids include fear of germs, dogs, lifts and social situations. I once read an article about the incendiary risk of petrol stations and now have an irrational fear of being near a petrol station because I am convinced it will blow up.


Generalised Anxiety – If you are generally anxious, worried or stressed about things all or most of the time, with no particular or obvious reason, and this has a severe and negative effect on your day-to day-life, you may have ‘generalised anxiety’.


Panic Attacks – Panic attacks are overwhelming feelings of extreme anxiety that come on suddenly and usually last for a few minutes. During a panic attack, you may experience difficulties breathing and feel very unwell, overwhelmed and out of control. The feelings gradually go away, but can leave you feeling shaken and anxious. Having panic attacks can be very frightening and can affect your confidence and ability to go to engage in school and take part in activities.


Obsessions and Compulsions – Some kids that suffer from severe anxiety may get trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts and behaviours. These negative thoughts may be very strong and hard to ignore (obsessions). You may feel that the only way to stop bad things from happening is to repeat certain actions or check things over and over again (compulsions). If these behaviours are severe, this behaviour can develop into an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an anxiety-related disorder.  If you feel that your obsessions or compulsions are starting to rule or interfere with your life, it is best to ask your parents to seek professional help.


Selective Mutism – Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder in which a kid is unable to speak in one or more social settings (for example, at school, in public places, with adults), but is able to speak comfortably in other settings (for example, at home with their family). People who have selective mutism understand language use but their anxiety stops them from speaking. Another way of explaining selective mutism is that it is an anxiety disorder that is similar to an extremely severe form of ‘shyness’


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