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Anxiety in young people


Anxiety can have a huge impact on young people’s lives. It can take many forms and have various negative effects. There are however, a wide variety of resources to hand which can support those who are suffering from anxiety and there are several ways in which teaching staff can also support them to help them overcome their anxieties.


It’s important to understand what anxiety is and how it manifests itself in the behaviour of young people so we can quickly identify the symptoms and traits.


Did you know?

Women are twice as likely as men to suffer from anxiety.

More than 1 in 4 people with have a panic attack in their lifetime

1 in 8 people will develop PTSD following a traumatic experience


Some people are more prone to anxiety than others and this could be down to genetics, where there is a history of anxiety in close family members. Others are just more emotional and sensitive and therefore view more situations as threats. Social anxiety can stem from a history of shyness in childhood and adolescence and cause persistent anxiety.


In some situations anxiety can be down to traumatic life events such as bereavement, being a victim of crime or a serious illness. There are of course those who suffer from anxiety due to social disadvantage and a lack of care, neglect and poor education.


So what is anxiety?


Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives and it is a perfectly natural response to a situation which makes us feel uncomfortable or in danger. It can in some cases be very mild and only last a few moments, but in some people it can be severe and last for years.


How do people actually feel when suffering from anxiety


There are numerous physical, psychological and behavioural effects of anxiety and many will feel a combination of several of them.


Physical effects

  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, headache, sweating, tingling, numbness
  • Choking, dryness of mouth, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Muscle aches and pains (especially in commonly known stress areas such as neck, shoulders and lower back)


Psychological effects

  • Unrealistic and / or excessive fear and worry (about past or future events)
  • Mind racing or going blank
  • Decreased concentration and memory
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Irritability, impatience, anger and confusion
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge, nervousness
  • Tiredness, sleep disturbances, vivid dreams
  • Unwanted unpleasant repetitive thoughts (also known as intrusive thoughts)


These can cause behavioural changes in some people such as the urge to avoid and escape certain situations that cause discomfort and distress. It may also cause repetitive compulsive behaviour where individuals are excessively checking things as well as continually seeking reassurance.


What are the different forms of anxiety?


There are different forms of anxiety and it’s important to be able to identify them and their effects.




General Anxiety Disorder

General Anxiety Disorder is the most common form of anxiety where people worry about things that may go wrong and not being able to cope with situations. This may be in relation to family, health, money or work. This can often be difficult to control but once diagnosed and explained, there are many support resources available.


Panic disorders

A panic attack is the sudden onset of intense apprehension, fear or terror, and comes with a sense of impending doom or death. Some medical conditions have symptoms similar to panic attacks (heart or asthma attack).


Phobia Disorder

This is where someone has an unreasonable or strong fear of something specific, and therefore may

avoid situations such as leaving home, being in crowded and public places, speaking in public, travelling on buses, trains or planes, as well as attending social events.


Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) 

These disorders can develop after a distressing or catastrophic event which may have involved death or serious injury. It could be witnessing an event or learning that an event has happened. It could also relate to mass events such as acts or war or terrorism.


Obsessive Compulsive Behaviour (OCD)

This is the least common form of anxiety disorder which usually begins in adolescence and involves obsessional thoughts and compulsive behaviours accompanying the feelings of anxiety.

The individual will feel the need to perform certain routines repeatedly (called “compulsions”) or has certain thoughts repeatedly (called “obsessions”).


Mixed Anxiety and Depression

Many people with anxiety don’t fit neatly into a particular anxiety disorder and those with high levels of anxiety over long periods of time will often suffer from to depression, hence the importance of tackling this as early as possible.



What support is available


Many people don’t realise they can get support which will help them live a much better life.


Depending on the type of anxiety someone is suffering from and the severity of it, there are many tools that can be used to help.


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help manage problems by changing the way someone thinks and behaves. It’s most commonly used to treat anxiety and depression but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems too.


CBT is based on the concept that thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and actions are interconnected, and that negative thoughts and feelings can trap people in a vicious cycle. Unlike some other talking treatments, CBT deals with current problems, rather than focusing on issues from the past.


It aims to help people deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way by breaking them down into smaller parts. You’re shown how to change these negative patterns to improve the way they feel and looks for practical ways to improve the person’s state of mind on a daily basis.


Psychological interventions and medication

There are also high intensity psychological interventions that can be made and on occasion this will be combined with drug treatments such as anti-depressants or other medication.


Those suffering from panic disorders can be supported by being offered reassurance, asking them to remain calm and to breathe slowly. It is also important to be mindful of the individual’s personal space and not belittle their experience.



How staff can support children suffering from anxiety


Schools should create safe spaces for discussion.


As a school it is important that all staff are aware of anxiety and mental health issues. Therefore it is important to talk about anxiety with staff and children and young people and create an ethos of mental health awareness and safety.


Mental health and anxiety support should be high on the agenda at senior leadership level and training should be provided to staff. It’s also important to provide mental health education to children and young people.


Anxiety and poor mental health could be an indicator of abuse, neglect or exploitation. Many traumatic experiences can have a life-long impact on someone’s mental health, behaviour and their education. Staff who are not trained, can make observations and not a diagnosis.


Teachers can support someone struggling with anxiety or any mental health issues by:

  • Listening and responding calmly
  • Reassuring them
  • Offering support rather than solutions
  • Not labelling or stereotyping
  • Retaining realistic expectations of your role
  • Asking what you can do to help


ALGEE is a very useful and powerful tool from Mental Health First Aid England

  • A – Assess and assist with any crisis
  • L – Listen and communicate non-judgementally
  • G – Give support and information
  • E – Encourage the person to get appropriate professional help
  • E – Encourage other support


Always remember that in the moment a child is in front of you, they are safe and okay.



The impact of Coronavirus

The impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) may cause youngsters to feel anxious, stressed, worried, sad, bored, lonely or frustrated.


It is important for them to talk to someone about how they’re feeling and source avenues and activities that help them remain calm and positive. The news can be incredibly overwhelming and confusing so understanding and knowing the facts will greatly also help.


Helpful resources and support

  • Young Minds – Young Minds provide specific support for young people who are feeling anxious in relation to coronavirus
  • org.uk are calling on the Government to look #BeyondTomorrow and take action now to limit the long-term impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health
  • Anxiety UK – A national charity run by people with lived experience of anxiety anxietyuk.org.uk
  • No Panic – Charity helping people who experience any kind of anxiety disorder and specialising in self-help based recovery www.nopanic.org.uk
  • OCD Action – National charity focussing on OCD www.ocdaction.org.uk
  • OCD-UK – National charity working with children and adults www.ocduk.org
  • Triumph over Phobias – Helping sufferers of phobias, OCD and other related fears www.topuk.org