Anxiety & Stress

Feelings of anxiety are extremely common. You're not alone in this and you don't have to keep it to yourself.

We all feel anxious from time to time

What is anxiety?

We all feel anxious from time to time. It’s a normal reaction to events in our lives such as hospital appointments, money concerns or sitting exams. But if anxiety is making your life difficult, or you feel as if you can’t stop worrying, then you may have an anxiety disorder.

What about stress – is that different?

Stress is not a mental health diagnosis, but it can make you feel really upset and anxious. Sometimes people might feel more comfortable talking about stress than about mental health, and so it’s good to recognise there is a difference between the two.

Some people find it helpful to separate the terms stress and pressure. Stress can be an overwhelming, negative experience but pressure is a more positive force that can help us get things done. If you feel stressed a lot, you might develop depression or an anxiety disorder.

What is an anxiety disorder?

There are a group of mental health diagnosis called anxiety disorders. These include:

We don’t know exactly why some people develop anxiety disorders and some don’t.

They are probably caused by a combination of the way we are born, the way we are bought up and the experiences we have. Some anxiety disorders may be partially caused by distressing experiences in the past or problems with everyday life such as work, money, health or housing issues.

There might be no obvious cause.

What does an anxiety disorder feel like?

You might:

  • feel anxious or worried a lot of the time
  • feel constantly on edge
  • get anxious about stuff other people are fine about
  • avoid situations that make you anxious
  • have physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, dizziness, sickness or a tight chest
  • feel irritable
  • have difficulties sleeping or eating
  • feel panicky or have panic attacks

Some of these symptoms can make you think you have a physical health problem.

I need help with this – what should I do?

Anxiety disorders can make you feel worried or scared about seeking help. But there are lots of options available. You could

  • call a helpline or find online support. Young Minds and Mind both have lots of useful advice
  • talk to someone you trust – this could be a teacher, school mentor, friend or someone in your family
  • visit your doctor. If you find your anxiety hard to talk about, try writing things down to help you explain. The GP might suggest some treatment to help you manage your anxiety.

This could be:

  • talking therapy such as Cogntive Behaviour Therapy (CBT)
  • medication, such as a type of antidepressant that increases serotonin levels in the brain (SSRIs). Serotonin is a chemical that carries signals between nerve cells and the brain, and is thought to help regulate moods.

What can I do to help myself?

There are things you can do to help yourself cope. These include:

  • eating well – trying to get a balanced diet
  • trying to get enough sleep
  • trying not to overdo the drink and drugs, including caffeine
  • getting some exercise and fresh air
  • practising deep breathing. Try three seconds in, three seconds out through the nose. If you breathe with your tummy and not your chest you are likely to take deeper breaths.

Whether you have an anxiety disorder, or are feeling anxious and stressed right now, these tips can help. Not all of them will work for everyone but some of them may work for you.

Remember feelings of stress and anxiety disorders are extremely common. You're not alone in this and you don't have to keep it to yourself.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.

This factfile was last updated on the 22nd June 2017

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