This is the second section and covers:
– The symptoms of anxiety
– Treating anxiety
The symptoms of anxiety
When a person is having anxiety, their brain is signalling to them that they should run away because there is a danger. For this reason, a person can experience symptoms of anxiety in both their mind and body.
Anxiety in the mind may cause a person to feel:
Unable to concentrate
Anxiety in the body may cause a person to feel:
‘Butterflies’ in the stomach
A racing heart
Shortness of breath
There are different types of anxiety disorders. Some of the most common types of anxiety disorders experienced by children and young people are listed below.
Separation anxiety is a normal experience for infants up to the age of 3 years. It is a problem when the child does not grow out of it. The symptoms can include:
Being overly clingy
Intense worry for the safety of parents
Refusal to be alone without parents
Intense distress or panic at times of separation from parents
Persistent worry about sudden separation from parents
Refusal to sleep alone without parents
Generalized anxiety is a persistent worry about different situations without a clear cause. The symptoms can include:
Spends most days worrying
Finds it difficult to stop worrying
The constant need for reassurance
Overworking to perfection
Avoiding task due to fear of not performing well
Specific phobia means that there is an excessive fear directed towards an object or situation e.g. dogs, needles, darkness.
Extreme fear about a specific thing
Crying, freezing, clinging or tantrums when close to feared object or situation
Avoids that thing on purpose
Extreme distress if avoidance is not possible
Avoidance of thing interrupts normal activities
Social anxiety is when there is an intense fear about being in social situations or big crowds. The symptoms can include:
Fears being around and talking to people
Avoidance of social situations
Feelings of intense stress during social situations
Constant worries about being embarrassed, rejected or laughed at by others
Replaying scenarios or conversations and over-analysing them
Hiding, crying or freezing when faced with social situations
Other types of anxiety disorders in young people include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Jess just moved to a new school recently. Even though the other girls have been very welcoming to her, Jess is afraid that she might come across as a looser to them. During break time, she feels worried and starts to sweat uncontrollably. She is terrified of saying the wrong thing and making herself look foolish. At home, Jess can’t help it but to replay events that happened at school to try and guess what others think of her. This got so bad that Jess thinks that it might be better for her to avoid going to break time altogether. Her parents are becoming concerned because they notice that Jess is just not herself when they pick her up from school. They believe that it might be helpful to speak to a mental health expert.”
Problems with anxiety can be managed to prevent long term problems such as loss of friends, poor academic performance and self-esteem. There are different ways to do this:
Talking with loved ones about the anxiety
Engaging with self-help books available online
Doing breathing exercises when anxious
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with exercise, healthy food and a good bedtime routine
Having therapy along with these steps
Talk therapy provided by a mental health expert will help the child or young person to talk about and take control over their anxiety. This can be done through the following therapies:
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a talk therapy that focuses on helping the child or young person to understand how thoughts, feelings and behaviours relate to each other. The therapist will also teach the child or young person-specific skills, such as problem-solving skills, social skills and breathing techniques. This will help the child to take control over their anxiety.
Exposure therapy- a therapy that focuses more on behaviours that play a part in allowing the anxiety to continue. It is specialized for specific anxiety types, such as phobias. The therapist will provide a safe environment, where the child or young person can face their fears long enough to learn that nothing bad will actually happen.
Medication for anxiety can be prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist. It is usually given if the anxiety is severe and other methods such as therapy and self-help has not worked. Many people benefit from having both medication and therapy together when dealing with anxiety. But it is a good idea to try self-help methods and therapy first.