Anxiety can be tough for anyone to deal with, but add in the whirlwind of changes that come with adolescence, and anxiety can feel like an intrusive mind hog that spends way too much time squeezing, surprising and overwhelming anyone it lands on.
If anxiety is making a menace of itself, the good news is that there are ways to take it back to small enough. First though, it’s important to understand the telltale signs of anxiety and where they come from. When you understand this, anxiety will start to lose the power that comes from its mystery and its unpredictability.
Teens With Anxiety. A Few Things You Need to Know
Anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with strength, character or courage.
People with anxiety will be some of the strongest, most likable, bravest people any of us will know. Anxiety and courage always exist together. Courage doesn’t mean you never get scared – if you’re not scared, there’s no need to be brave. What courage means is that you’re pushing right up against your edges. It doesn’t matter where the edges are. They will be different for everyone. The point is that courage is all about feeling them and making a push to move through them – and people with anxiety do it all the time.
Sometimes it drops in for absolutely no reason at all.
Anxiety happens because your brain thinks there might be danger, even when there is no danger at all. Brains are smart, but they can all read things a little bit wrong sometimes.
Anxiety is soooo common. Almost as common as having feet. But not quite.
On average, about 1 in 5 young people have anxiety. Without a doubt, someone you know or care about will also struggle with anxiety from time to time. Stats don’t lie. They don’t gossip and they don’t start scandals either, which is why they’re so reliable. They’re good like that.
Everyone experiences anxiety on some level.
Anxiety exists on a spectrum – some people get it a lot and some people get it a lot less, but we all experience anxiety on some level at some time in our lives – exams, job interviews, performances. Sometimes it can happen for no reason at all.
Anxiety is a feeling, not a personality.
Anxiety doesn’t define you. It’s a feeling – it will come, but it will always go, and it’s as human as having a heartbeat.
Your brain that is strong, healthy and doing exactly what brains are meant to do.
Your brain is magnificent. It’s just a little overprotective. It loves you like a favourite thing and it wants to keep you safe. And alive. Brains love keeping people alive. They adore it actually.
Anxiety can look a little something like this …
Here are some of the common signs of anxiety in teenagers. If you have some of these, it doesn’t mean that teenage anxiety is a problem for you. This list is a way to make sense of things that feel as though they’re getting in your way, but if you experience some of them and you’re travelling along beautifully, then there’s no problem at all. Something is only a problem if it’s causing you a problem.
- Negative thoughts – what-ifs, thoughts about being judged or embarrassed, small thoughts that grow into big worries.
- Excessive worry about physical symptoms (that a cut might become infected, that a headache might mean brain cancer).
An anxious brain is a strong brain, and anxious thoughts can be persuasive little beasts that stick to the inside of your skull like they belong there. Write this down and stick it to your mirror, so you see it every morning when you’re getting a faceful of your gorgeous head: ‘Thoughts are thoughts. They are NOT predictions. Let them come. And then let them go.’
Fearful, worried, overwhelmed, out of control.
Dread, as though something bad is going to happen.
- Panic that seems to come from nowhere.
- Feeling separate to your physical self or your surroundings. (This is called depersonalisation and it can be driven by anxiety. Manage this one by managing your anxiety. Keep reading for how to do this.)
- Racing heart.
- Tightening in the chest
- Tense muscles.
- Shaking hands.
- Feeling as though you’re going to vomit.
- Dizzy or light-headed.
- Feeling as though you want to burst into tears.
- Feeling angry.
These are all because of the surge of neurochemicals that happen when the body is in fight or flight mode. They can feel frightening, but they are all a very normal part of the way your brain and body protect you from possible danger (more about this later).
- Skin picking (dermatillomania).
- Pulling out hair (trichotillomania).
- Nail biting.
- Avoidance of people or situations, even if they are things that would probably be fun. (This isn’t necessarily about wanting to avoid the people involved and more about wanting to avoid the anxiety that comes with certain situations such as parties or get-togethers or anything unfamiliar.)
- Feel compelled to perform certain habits or rituals that don’t seem to make sense (e.g. having to stack things in even numbers, having to touch the door handle a certain number of times before you leave, compulsive hand-washing, checking locks etc).
People with anxiety tend to find all sorts of ways to make their anxiety feel smaller for a little while. These self-soothing behaviours will often escalate with the intensity of the anxiety, but will ease once anxiety is under control. If you can manage your anxiety, this will help to fade these symptoms. (Sit tight – we’ll talk about how to do that.)
You might have a bit of …
- Tummy trouble – (constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel).
In the gut are hundreds of millions of neurons. This is affectionately known as ‘the brain in our gut’. These neurons are really important for mental health because they send information from the belly to the brain. When the environment in the gut is out of balance (not enough good bacteria, too many bad ones), the messages sent back to the brain can stir anxiety.
And those zzz’s …
- Difficulty sleeping – either trouble falling asleep, or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep.
When you’re still, quiet and trying to relax, negative thoughts or worries will see it as an invitation. They’ll put on their fancy pants and get the party started in your head. Pushy little sleep-thieving pirates that they are.
Practical, powerful ways to help manage anxiety.
Understand why it feels the way it does.
Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does will be one of your greatest tools in managing it. Think of it like this. Imagine being in a dark room that is full of ‘stuff’. When you walk around in the dark, you’re going to bump into things. You’re going to scrape, bruise and maybe drop a few choice words. Turn on the light though, and those things are still there, but now you can navigate your way around them. No more bumps. No more scrapes. And no more having to hold your tongue in front of people who can confiscate your phone. Here’s what you need to know …
Anxiety happens because a part of your brain (the amygdala) thinks there might be something it needs to protect you from. When this happens, it surges your body with a mix of neurochemicals (including oxygen, hormones and adrenaline), designed to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful so you can fight for your life or run for it. This is the fight or flight response. It’s normal and healthy and it’s in everyone. In people with anxiety, it’s just a little quicker to activate.
The amygdala acts on impulse. It’s a do-er, not a thinker – all action and not a lot of thought. It just wants to keep you safe, because safe is a lovely thing to be and because that’s been its job since the beginning of humans. The amygdala can’t always tell the difference between something that might hurt you (like a baseball coming at your head) and something that won’t (like walking into a party) – and it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is keep you safe.
When there’s nothing to flee or nothing to fight, there’s nothing to burn the neurochemical fuel that is surging through you. The fuel builds up and that’s why anxiety feels the way it does. Here’s how that works:
» Your breathing changes from normal, slow breaths to short, shallow breaths. This is because your brain tells your body to conserve oxygen on breathing, and send as much as possible to the muscles so they can get ready to run or fight.
You might feel puffed or a bit breathless. You might also feel your cheeks burn red (from the blood rushing to your face) and your face become warm.
» If you don’t fight or flee, the oxygen builds up in your body and the carbon dioxide drops.
You might feel dizzy or a bit confused.
» Your heart races to get the oxygen around your body.
Your heart can feel like it’s beating out of your chest and you might feel sick.
» Fuel gets sent to your arms (for fight) and to your legs (for flight).
Your hands, arms and legs might feel tense or shaky.
» Your body starts cooling itself down to stop it from overheating if it has to fight or flee.
You might feel a bit clammy or sweaty.
» Anything happening in your body that isn’t absolutely essential in the moment for your survival will shut down to conserve energy. Your digestive system is one of these. It shuts down until the ‘danger’ is dealt with, so the fuel it was using to digest your food can be used by your body for fight or flight.
You might feel butterflies in your belly. You might also feel sick, as though you’re about to vomit, and your mouth might feel dry.
» The amygdala also controls your emotions so when it’s in fight or flight, it’s switched on to high volume. This means your emotions can be too.
You might burst into tears or get angry.
Everything you feel when you have anxiety is to do with your body getting ready to fight or flee, when there is actually no need for either. It’s okay – there are things you can do about this. Let’s talk about that …
Dealing with Anxiety – The How-To
Here are some ways to manage anxiety by strengthening the structure and function of your brain in ways that protect it against anxiety. Remember though, the brain is like any other muscle in your body – it will get stronger with practice. I wish I could tell you that it would get stronger with pizza and tacos but that would be a dirty big lie and very unhelpful. Delicious maybe, but unhelpful. What isn’t a lie is that the following strategies have been proven by tons of very high-brow research to be very powerful in helping to reduce anxiety.
Mindfulness. But first to show you why.
A mountain of studies have shown that mindfulness can be a little bit magic in strengthening the brain against anxiety. In a massive analysis of a number of different mindfulness/anxiety studies, mindfulness was found to be ‘associated with robust and substantial reductions in symptoms of anxiety.’
Mindfulness changes the brain the way exercise changes our body – but without the sweating and panting. Two of the ways mindfulness changes the brain are:
- by strengthening the connections between the amygdala (the key player in anxiety) and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that can calm big emotions (and anxiety counts as a big emotion). The stronger the connections, the more the pre-frontal cortex is able to weigh in during anxiety and calm things down.
- by teaching the brain to stay in the present. Anxiety is driven by a brain that has been cast into the future. Thoughts start out as ‘what ifs’ and turn into persuasive little beasts that won’t let go. Mindfulness helps to keep control over your brain so you can stop it from worrying about things it doesn’t need to.
Okay then. What else can mindfulness do?
Plenty. Mindfulness can improve concentration, academic performance, the ability to focus, and it can help with stress and depression. It also increases gray matter, which is the part of the brain that contains the neurons. Neurons are brain cells, so we want plenty of them and plenty of gray matter for them to hang out in.
So mindfulness hey? What is it exactly?
Mindfulness is about staying in the present and ‘watching’ your thoughts and feelings without hanging on to them for too long. It’s this ‘hanging on too long’ that gives them the juice they need to become something bigger. Minds quite like to wander, especially anxious ones, so staying in the moment can take some practice. Here’s the how:
- Get comfy and close your eyes.
- Notice your breathing. How does the air feel as you draw it inside you? Notice the sensation of the air, or your belly rising and falling. Notice your heart beating. If your mind starts to wander, come back to this.
- Now, what can you hear? What can you feel outside of you and inside your body? If your mind starts to wander, focus on your breathing again.
Is there an app for that?
There are some brilliant apps that can guide you through mindfulness. Here are three (with links) for you to have a look at:
Smiling mind – a free app has tailored programs for different ages.
Stop, Breathe, Think – start by choosing words to describe how you’re feeling right now, and the app will suggest the best meditations based on where you’re at.
Insight Meditation Timer – another free app with guided meditations from over 700 teachers. It also has a very excellent feature that shows a map of how many other people are meditating in the world (using the app) at the same time as you. How to make the world feel a little bit smaller and a little more connected. Nice.
The effects of exercise on mental health are proven and powerful. The research on the positive effects of exercise on anxiety could probably cover a small planet, or, you know, a very big building. The point is that there’s tons of it.
Here’s how it works. Some neurons (brain cells) are born with the personality of puppies – very excitable and quick to fire up. We need these. They help us to think quickly, act quickly and remember. In the right amount and at the right time, these neurons are cell-sized bits of brain magic. Sometimes though, they can get a bit carried away with themselves. When too many of these excitable neurons get too active, anxiety can happen.
To stop these neurons getting over-excited and causing trouble, the brain has a neurochemical, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid is the name it likes to go by at scientific get-togethers and when it wants to make an impression). Neurochemicals are the suave little messengers in the brain that carry important info from one cell to another. GABA is the brain’s calm down chemical – kind of like a sweet lullaby for the parts of the brain that are in very serious lullaby need. When the levels of GABA in the brain are low, there’s nothing to calm the excitable neurons. Exercise is a really effective way to get the GABA in the brain to the right levels.
Once these neurochemicals are back to healthy levels, the symptoms of anxiety tend to disappear into the sunset, or into a box with a very tight fitting lid – we don’t know for certain but wherever they go, it’s somewhere far away from you which is the important thing.
Any activity that gets your heart going counts as exercise. This will be different for everyone. It doesn’t have to mean pounding the pavement with your running feet on to the point of that you’re gasping for sweet life and demanding an oxygen tank. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s just that there aren’t always oxygen tanks handy when you need them. A brisk 20-minute walk or 8-10 minutes of going up and down the stairs a couple of times a day will also do it. Whatever works for you. Try for something you can do at least five times a week.
If vigorous exercise and you are still in the
getting to know you trying-to-like-you phase of your relationship, non-aerobic exercise like yoga can also ease anxiety.
Breathe. But practice, practice, practice. And then practice a little bit more.
Anxiety can feel like such a gangster at times, it can be hard to believe that something as simple and as normal as breathing can out-muscle it – but it can. Here’s why. Strong, deep breathing initiates the relaxation response. The relaxation response was discovered by a Harvard cardiologist to be an automatic response that can neutralise the surge of neurochemicals that cause the awful physical feelings of anxiety. Because it’s an automatic response, you don’t need to believe it works, it just will – but you do have to initiate it.
Breathing is the switch that will activate the relaxation response and start to put the symptoms of anxiety back to small enough. Once you start slow deep breathing, your body will take over and do the rest. Breathe in through your nose for 3, hold for 1 and then out through your mouth for 3. (If you’re the type who quite fancies a visual, imagine holding a cup of hot cocoa and smelling the warm, heady aroma for three, hold your breath for one, then blow it cool for one.) Make sure the breathing is going right into your belly, not just into your chest.
In the thick of anxiety, the brain is too busy with other things to remember to do strong deep breathing. To make strong deep breathing easier for your brain to access, practice it a couple of times a day when you’re calm.
Food. You’ve gotta look after your belly
We used to think that anxiety or depression caused tummy trouble, but increasingly researchers are thinking that it actually works the other way – an unhappy belly can make an unhappy brain. The good news about this is that it doesn’t take too much effort to put it right, but eating well is super-important.
We know there are trillions of microbes that live in the intestinal tract. These send signals to the brain that can change mood and behaviour. If you eat too much processed food or too much sugar (or not enough good food) it can knock out the balance of good bacteria in your gut. This can upset the balance of everything and heavily influence your mood by sending funky messages back to your brain. Eating unprocessed, healthy food, and food that contains good bacteria (such as miso or yoghurt) can help to balance things out inside your gut and put things back on track.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating something unhealthily delicious now and then, but make sure that you’re not overdoing it. The healthier your gut, the healthier your mental health. Gut bacteria are the rock stars of the mental health world. It’s really important to keep yours happy, because, you know – cranky rock stars can be painful and annoying and cause more than a decent amount of trouble.
And finally …
Make sure you love yourself a little louder. At adolescence, you’re at a point in your life where the world is opening up to you. It’s a world that needs your wisdom, your courage and your interesting and very wonderful take on things. Anxiety can have a way of shifting the focus too often to the negative, but the things about ourselves that we would like to change often have very wonderful strengths built into them. Of course you would always rather not have anxiety, but there are so many strengths in you. Spend plenty of time noticing them.
Anxiety is something that happens, not something you are. What you are is smart, with truckloads of emotional intelligence, and a very wonderful and uniqe way of looking at things, as well as being the person people can count on, the one who thinks of things that other people haven’t, creative (even if you aren’t doing anything creative, it’s in you), sensitive, strong, and brave. You would be most people’s favourite type of humans.
Hi. I’m Alina and I am 16. I have anxiety everyday and I don’t know how to control it a lot of the times. What should I do? I don’t want to take any medication. I want my treatment to be all natural. And I don’t want to go to a person who can help me because I am worried they are going to give me medication.
Alina, you are so powerful in strengthening yourself against anxiety. The most important thing is to keep moving towards brave behaviour. That will teach your brain (and you) that you can feel anxious and still do brave things. Also, try the strategies in the article – mindfulness, exercise, sleep, healthy food. They are all really important in protecting yourself against anxiety. Understand where your feelings and symptoms are coming from, and know that you’ve got this. I know it can feel as though you don’t, but that’s the work of a strong, healthy brain that’s being a bit overprotective. It is not a true reflection of your capacity, or the situation you are facing. You can do this.
I have a 13 year old daughter who is going through some of the same things. She seems overwhelmed and just wants me to fix it. She also says she wants someone to talk to. I have tried to get her to eat better, and rest and sleep more and put her phone down at night. I have also tried to get her to take her daily vitamin. The first time she came to me crying and distraught and I didn’t understand her stress. I didn’t know how to handle this. She has many friends and is sociable, has very good grades in school, and dances and involved in a school sport. It makes me feel terrible that I cannot help her. I will share your article with her and my husband. I am hoping your techniques will be able to help her cope.
Hi Renee – Here is another article that might help https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-children-anxiety-in-teens/. It can be so difficult to watch anxiety having such an impact on someone you love so much, but know that anxiety absolutely doesn’t mean breakage. The videos on this link might also be helpful https://www.heysigmund.com/category/with-kids/anxiety-videos-for-kids/. Know that your daughter has everything she needs to cope with her anxiety with strength and courage. The key is helping her to realise this.
Hi your article is very helpful… I have a 14 year old girl who is smart and brave… she had passed in a science and special class in one of the prestigious school in our place,,,, her anxiety started when in first grading she was not included in the honor list… since then she skips her classes and many times don’t want to go to school…. I am so worried since I am pretty sure that she will be kick out from her class…. she keeps her room closed and doesn’t want to talk to us when her classmate called she just said m ok but still has stomach ache… what will I do? Her room is now smelling as she didn’t take a bath and clean her room. I’ve been hurt because when I attempted to convince her to go to school she called me “fuck u” and it’s been unbecoming of her I can’t see the old dolly (her nickname) in her.
If you can, talk to your daughter about the information in the article and keep encouraging her towards brave behaviour. If you can help her understand more about her anxiety (with the information in the article), that can be a really powerful way to take the ‘anxiety out of anxiety’.
Thanks for the great article.
I do mentor ship to the youth and ANXIETY is big problem in the society.
I have got great insights on how to deal with it.
Good for you!
Hi Karen, my name is Sam and I’m currently working on my Masters in Social Work and doing social work placement in schools. I’ve been working with mostly teens who are experiencing anxiety, and your article has really helped me to put into relatable words the manageability of anxiety. Your article has also really helped me to see different ways of managing my own anxiety! I just want you to know how helpful your article is!
As a teacher of 11-18 year olds, supporting student achieve academically and manage their feelings and emotions is often a difficult task. Year on year we have more students present with anxiety. This article is incredibly insightful and will really help me to help the students I am working with. Thank you.
Thank you for this article. I have printed it off for my daughter who is 16 and suffering from anxiety.
Hi my name is Jennifer. I’m a mother (with anxiety myself) of a beautiful 14 yr old girl with severe anxiety. We both are medicated for our anxiety because it causes severe panic attacks. Although mine is mostly under control, I understand the adolescent mind is still developing the front lobe of the brain that helps control this. I have to say it can be extremely challenging to give another person advice on how to manage their anxiety. My daughter and I are very close and when she’s melting down it’s easy for myself to go into anxiety. But again I’ve learned to control mine. So I usually try to get her to focus on me and breath with me. She does it but sometimes thinks I’m crazy. I have to say this article is perfect for her. I’m going to sit down and read each part with her and talk about it. That way I’m sure she understands each part and hopefully she will be able to implement these techniques herself at times. THANK YOU SO MCIH FOR THIS ARTICLE!
Thank you for this article. It helped me understand what my daughter is going through. I’ve never had anxiety so it is so hard to know what to say when she tells me she HAS to leave school or other places. I didn’t understand why she would shake or become clammy..or feel sick. She doesn’t sleep well either. What do I say when she tells me how she feels? Just “I understand” ? I don’t wan to encourage her running away from responsibilities like school, but don’t want to put her in a position that makes it worse.
Hi. My name is Shammah and I’m 15 years old. Anxiety has existed in my life at the age of 10 and I am trying to control it since then. Thank you for your article! It was soothing to my brain and probably the best article to deal with anxiety. I promise to practice mindfulness in my everyday life and will share with others.
Your article really helped me right now. I’m an 18-teen years old engeeniering student and have been dealing with anxiety since a long time. I never really spoke to someone about it because, you know,.. I have anxiety, lol( sorry that was lame XD). School is starting in less than a week, and I always get super anxious about it. My brain starts filling up with unnecessary worries and because I have a form of social anxiety it’s even worse, because now I’m an adult and people have big expectations, even though no one ever teached me how to actually be one. However, I just wanted to say that just by reading this article it calmed me a little bit, and I’m very thankful for it. I wish there would be someone reassuring me and just, you know… Have a conversation with and laugh about all this worries, but again, because of my anxiety I have difficulty to manage to find courage and meet new people. Should I maybe ask someone for help? Or talk to my doctor? I think my anxiety got really bad since I turned 18-teen, because of all the becoming an adult stuff…, and I’m scared that is going to affect my life being all this anxious. What should I do?
Larisa I can hear how worried you are about this affecting you long term, but you need to know that anxiety is very mangaeable. You have an amazing, powerful, beautiful brain. It is like any other part of us, we need to nurture it with what it needs to be able to work hard for us. Sleep (8-10 hours whenever you can); mindfulness (10-20 minutes a day); exercise – are all amazing for strengthening the brain against anxiety. You’ve got this.
My name is Melanie I am 14 years old and I think I might have health anxiety. I’ve been noticing physical symptoms like my legs feel tense and sometimes they shake and spaz a little bit, I’ve also been having stomach aches that kind of feel like cramping a bit too. Whenever I notice a symptom like these I worry that it could be something really bad and I spend hours on the internet trying to find out what these symptoms could be which only makes my worry and stress out more. I am definitely going to try excersizing and practicing mindfulness and the breathing technique mentioned in this article I think will really help. I’m also wondering if for health anxiety if you think about a symptom you will start to feel it? If you have any information or something that could help me I would really appreciate it. So sorry about the long post!!!
I’m so pleased you have reached out to me – and you don’t have to be sorry about the long post! I love that you are so clear about what you are feeling. The symptoms you have described can certainly happen with anxiety. Something to try is to notice when they happy – are you thinking about something that might make you anxious, do they happen before you do something that might stir your anxiety? The other clue, is what happens when you relax? When you take strong deep breaths, do the physical symptoms start to fade?
There is a very strong connection between the mind and the body, so when you start getting anxious thoughts, it can certainly fuel anxious feelings and the physiological symptoms of anxiety.
Of course, if you are worried at all, it is important to speak to an adult you trust – a parent or a teacher or counsellor at your school. The most important thing to remember is that there is nothing broken or odd about you – nothing at all. You are strong, brave, and clear, and one of the bravest things anyone can do is asking for a hand when they need it. All my best wishes to you.
Hi, Thank you so much for your fantastic article. My daughter is 15 and is going through a bad period of anxiety. I have printed your information for her to keep and read over a few times. crossing fingers ….
Mel I’m so pleased you found the article. I hope it’s helpful to your daughter.
Hi. My name is Addien (said as Aiden) I have been dealing with butterflies in my stomach all day everyday for about 2 and a half months now! I am 13 years old and I feel like I am going to get a disease! Is that normal? Also, I am just worried because I have nothing stressful in my life. It’s like happening for no reason. So is at normal for teens? Am I still healthy even though it’s been going on for a long time?
Addien this is very common, especially in teens. Anxiety can happen even when it feels as though there is nothing to be anxious about. It happens because there is a part of our brain which has the job of constantly scanning the environment for threat. This is normal and it happens in everybody. It’s there to keep us safe from danger. With anxiety, that part can be a little more sensitive or overprotective, and hit the panic button when there’s no need. You sound wonderfully healthy, with a strong, healthy, magnificent brain. Anxiety doesn’t change any of that! Anxiety can happen to the bravest, healthiest, strongest people. Anxiety is very manageable. Mindfulness and exercise are great for anxiety. The most important thing is being consistent, so try for at least 10 minutes a day of mindfulness – more if you can fit it in. Also, if you can speak to a parent or a teacher or your school counsellor, they will also help you realise how normal what you are describing is. Talking to someone can be really helpful. Try the strategies in the article, especially mindfulness. You can get through this.
Hi, I’m Kayla and reading this article has been sooo helpful for me. I’m 17 and in year 11 at school, and I’ve always found managing stress quite easy. However, about 7 weeks ago I had a panic attack for the first time in class and had to get my mum to come pick me up because I was feeling really anxious. It wasn’t a serious panic attack and because I’ve been studying psychology for almost 2 years I knew what was happening but it was still quite scary. I spoke to the doctor about it and he said it was just stress from school that caused it as I am a high-achiever, and because I’d had a lot of late nights lately doing homework (I was often going to bed at about 12-1:00am and getting up at 7 the next morning). He told me to take the rest of the week off to rest and I went back to school the next week, quite anxious due to the panic attack I had but okay enough. I was fine for the first day but the second day I started crying in the car on the way and had to stay home because I was too anxious about going to school. I spoke to the learning advisor at school and he helped me move out of a class that was causing the most amount of stress, and I had an appointment with one of the school counsellors who told me it was a normal reaction to school stress and gave me a few tips for if I had a panic attack again. I didn’t have another panic attack for over a month, but almost each day it was quite hard to get to school because I would feel quite anxious, but once I would get to school I would be fine. It was starting to get better to the point where I had really minimised the daily anxiousness and hadn’t had any panic attacks, but then the end of semester exams came around and I had a panic attack in the car on the way to my first exam and had to organise to do my exam in the library rather than the big exam room because I find the environment quite stressful with all the supervisors walking around and the huge amount of people in there with me. I organised all my exams to be moved to the library, but it was still very hard to get to school to complete them and I was often feeling very anxious to the point of having a couple mini panic attacks at home thinking about the exams. I finished most of them without a fuss, except for one of them which I had a panic attack during and it took all my restraint to not break down in tears or leave the room and ask to go home! Exams finished a few days ago and I am about to start the final week of the semester before our 2 week holiday but I have found it very hard to relax these past couple days and have felt very anxious again about going to school, and I think it may be because of the amount of anxiety I felt during the exam week and the fear of having a panic attack at school again. Every time I think about going to school I feel dread and have negative thoughts like ‘I’m going to have a panic attack in class because that’s the class I had a panic attack in the first time’ or ‘If I get in trouble for not finishing work I’m going to start crying in front of everyone, which will be very embarrassing!’ I’m not too sure whether this sort of daily anxiousness I’ve been experiencing over the past 7 weeks is something I should go see a therapist about, or whether it is just caused by stress and lack of sleep and that once I have had adequate rest over the 2 week holiday it will be more manageable, but at the moment it is affecting my ability to relax and even things like going to the cinema with friends I have felt a bit too nervous to attend (even though my friends are aware of my situation). Most people I have spoken to have said that this is normal, but as someone who has never really experienced anxiety or stress to a large degree, I don’t really know. (This may just be normal for many others but I’ve just never experienced it!) Just thought I would ask for your opinion, and thank you so much for writing this article, some of these tips are really helpful and I know I will definitely use them!! 🙂
The symptoms you are describing are a very normal part of anxiety. These symptoms exist on a spectrum so sometimes they will feel worse, and sometimes they will feel more tolerable. What you are describing is very common, but that certainly doesn’t make it any less scary when it happens. The thing to be aware of is the way anxiety can drive ‘anxiety about the anxiety’. Memories are very powerful, so when you are in a situation that activates a memory of a time you felt anxious (such as exams, or in the car on the way to school), your brain will remember how you felt, sense it as another threat, and gear you up with the fight or flight neurochemicals.
Something to try is to have a thought anchor ready so you can more easily replace your anxious thoughts with brave ones. It might be a piece of paper with ‘I’ve got this’ written on it, or a quote that makes you feel calm and strong. Mindfulness and exercise will strengthen you over time, but replacing your anxious thoughts with brave ones, strong deep breathing, listening to music, or watching something funny on your phone (because laughing and anxiety have trouble existing together) are strategies that can help when you start to feel anxious. Of course, if you are worried and feel as though you need a hand to get through this, please speak to an adult you trust. Know that you are brave, strong and amazingly capable, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.
My name is Sarah and I am 18. I have been suffering from this for about 10 years but I really feel like this article has given me some very helpful and useful tips. So thank you!
Hi I’m aubrey. I’m 14 and I’ve been going through a lot. This article has given me some amazing ways to try and help my wellbeing. Thank you ?
Aubrey I’m so pleased this article was helpful. You have all the strength and courage you need to get through what you’re going through. Trust that. You’ve got this.
What a fantastic article, this is so relevant to what my 12 year old daughter is going through. Again like Erin my daughter is accademically extremely clever and has recently been forwarded by her school to a scholarship scheme. At school she is seen as a bright happy child. But at home her behaviour is very concerning. She constantly has uncontrollable melt downs and massive anxiety attacks that has ended up at A&E recently. She has also problems not sleeping, very low self esteem and more alarmingly has been leaving notes on my bed of a night that are very deep and dark. I took her to gp who has referred her to emotional well being team and cyps but we are still waiting for appointments since being referred in march. I am worried sick. Any advice or help would be hugely appreciated
Let her know that you are there for her, and that you can cope with anything she needs to talk about. She is leaving notes, so wants to let you into her world, but it can be difficult to know where to start the conversation. You have done the right thing getting her the support she needs. I hope an appointment becomes available soon. In the meantime, be there for her and love her hard.
Thank you Karen for your advice. I am finding this site amazing it’s really helping to make some sense of a very complex teenage mind. I am pleased to say we have got our first appointment through.
I’m raising my13 year old granddaughter. Her anxiety is beyond “severe”. This article has been an exceptional insight for me. She shuts down when I discuss behaviors to help her. I will continue to calmly reinforce these behaviors. Anxiety has caused her to do poorly in school and effects all aspects of her life. I will continue to read your newsletter. Thank you.
I have found your site as I found out yesterday that my daughter is suffering with Anxiety. She is medicated for it for two weeks now. Yesterday she just burst into tears and I found out as her Dad (separated from my daughters mum) that this is affecting her deeply.
I have never knowingly had any of this affect me in my life (thankfully). I have a can do attitude so what can I do to proactively help my daughter? I feel like she is a boat close to the shore but just out of reach at this time. Do I wade in to get hold of the situation or hope the boat makes its own way back to the shore?
I am confused and all I want to do is help, it is such a quandary. On the other hand I know that this isn’t about me. As the father figure I need to have a sense of being able to solve this and make things better or more manageable.
I’m Ellie and I’m 11 I have anxiety and I think I need to see someone about it but I feel awkward asking my mum about it. What should I do?
Shenai, please speak to your mum or another adult you can feel comfortable with. Anxiety is so common. You would be surprised how many people around you would also be struggling with anxiety. It’s a very normal part of being human, but it’s important to manage it so it doesn’t get in your way. Try the strategies in the article, and try speaking to somebody you trust. You are brave and you are strong. You are amazing. Asking for support doesn’t change that at all.
I am Elinor I’m 13, and I have severe anxiety. I have gone to several therapists in the past but none of them have helped. Any advice?
Elinor I want you to know that you aren’t alone. There are people there who will be able to support you through your anxiety. First of all, try the strategies in the article, particular mindfulness. I would really encourage you to speak with your school counsellor for some guidance on strategies that can help you. It’s also important to remember to be patient and kind to yourself. Your brain has used anxiety to protect you for a while now, and it’s become very good at doing this so it may take some time to ‘retrain’ it. Anxiety is very manageable, but it can take a little time. Be persistent with the strategies you try and patient, and don’t be afraid to reach out for support. I wish you love and strength, and the knowing that you can do this.
This was exactly what my daughter and I needed to read right now. She is 11 years old, highly gifted academically, and quite the little world changer. She runs a bullying prevention campaign that reaches 5 schools. Everyone else sees this bright, outgoing, kindhearted girl that loves spending her time doing just that. However, only those of us closest to her sees her anxiety. She has fears she cannot explain, and worries excessively about bad things happening. When she is anxious it flares her asthma, and she starts showing very obsessive tendencies. She also has to constantly chew on something or rub something on her lips. A few weeks ago she had a nightmare that there was a mass shooting at her favorite place – a sports stadium where we go watch soccer almost every weekend, and the first time going after the nightmare she cried and was terrified to get out of the car because she was sure her nightmare would come true. She powered through it and made it through the game. Right now, she found out two days ago that her Grammy has breast cancer. Her Grammy is more like her other parent and has lived with us and helped raise her since she was two and a half years old. Her anxiety behaviors are in full force. She feels like something is wrong with her. This was a beautiful read that I have printed out for her to help her know she is okay.
Erin your daughter sounds amazing. I hope the strategies in the article are able to help her. Anxiety is very manageable, but it can take time. An anxious brain is a very strong (and very wonderful) brain, and it can take a little time to retrain it to ease off the anxiety.
I have 4 children-2 of which are teens-Mental Health has always been equally important to physical in our household-So I have read tons of books & articles related to this topic-However, I wish every teen & parent could read THIS article-It is AWESOME-I can’t wait to share with my daughtrrs- Well Done
What I like about your site is that it is an easy read and something which my teen clients may access and receive some very solid information about issues they are dealing with. I have added you to my favorites. Thanks.
Michael thank you.
I’m 14, and for the past few weeks I just do not feel like my normal self, I guess it really got bad when my mom found out I casually smoke weed, I never felt worse emotionally than now. I’m constantly worrying about whatever tasks I have at hand whether it’s schoolwork or something recreational. I’ve experienced anxiety a few times over the past few years but nothing like this. I don’t talk to my guidance counselor at school about any of this, but that’s because I genuinely enjoy school and I don’t normally get anxiety attacks when I’m there. But when I’m home, or just anywhere alone, I feel a sense of displacement, I constantly worry about death, for people who I love like my family, I get a tight feeling in my chest and start to worry deeply about the future. I know I should start talking to my parents about this especially since my dad’s a doctor, a gastroenterologist, but nonetheless a doctor. But what I’m worried about is what if these feelings just stay with me and this is not just a phase. Everything in my life was going truly fine until now, I was really happy with my old life, and I just want to get back to how I was.
Jason if you can talk to your parents, that’s a huge step towards feeling better. Anxiety is really common. If you aren’t off weed, it’s important that you try to stop. That’s not a preachy lecture from a grown-up, but a lot of people say that although it might make them feel better for a little while, it ends up feeling worse. The other thing anxiety can do is make you anxious about the anxiety, so you start thinking about it more and feeling it more. That’s okay – that can be managed. I want you to know that what you are describing is very common, especially at your age. You’ll see that in the other comments on this thread. Mindfulness will be a great thing for you. Try for 10 minutes a day. There is so much research about how it changes the brain to strengthen it against anxiety. Also, exercise increases the same neurochemicals that are increased when you smoke weed. The important thing is to be consistent with whatever you choose. If you can do 10 minutes mindfulness a day (apps are great for that) and half an hour of exercise 5 times a week (fast walking or going for a run would be perfect) that would be a great thing for you, and will actually start to strengthen you long-term against anxiety. It’s great that you’ve reached out for some guidance on this. If you can, try to speak with your mum or dad about what you’re experiencing. It’s a massive, brave, step towards getting through anxiety.
How are u now
Jason my story is the exact same as yours like seeing this makes me feel like I’m not the only one and I’m 16 dealing with the exact same thing. I would actually like to talk to you more about it so you can help me out a little.