What is Anxiety and what are the signs to look out for?


Everyone experiences some anxiety in their life at some points in response to situations such as public speaking, interviews, exams, starting a new job or school, or another big life change. Mostly the feelings of unease, worry, fear or even panic will stop after either the event is over, or a short period of time. However, if the feelings can’t be calmed and continue over a longer period of time, then anxiety disorders can develop that may impact on living a full and healthy life.

As discussed in yesterday’s blog post about child mental health, many mental health problems including anxiety disorders start in childhood and adolescence, so it’s important that parents and teachers are aware of the signs and can help young people deal with their anxiety before it becomes a disorder.

Signs of Anxiety for Parents & Teachers to Look Out for in Young People

  • Spending a lot of time worrying – this could be about school work or their appearance
  • Not wanting to go to school (beyond the usual!)
  • Showing or describing physical symptoms (e.g. headaches) to try to avoid going to school or trying to be sent home from school
  • Wanting constant reassurance from parents or teachers
  • Spending a lot of time on their own at lunch or break
  • Showing the physical and psychological signs described above

Physical signs of anxiety

There are some very physical signs of anxiety that sufferers may feel. Recent studies have shown that the Amygdala, the area of the brain associated with anxiety which alerts us to danger, may become overstimulated. Sufferers can become stuck in ‘fight or flight mode, feeling vulnerable and perceiving a ‘danger’ of some kind. The body meanwhile gets ready to fight that bear or tiger and as the adrenalin courses through our bodies. Some of the physical signs of anxiety include:

  • increased heart rate
  • shaking
  • shallow breathing
  • sweating
  • dizziness
  • stomach problems
  • loss of appetite
  • heart palpitations
  • dry mouth
  • ‘jumpiness’

Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety

The psychological symptoms of anxiety vary from person to person, though they can include:

  • unrealistic fears and worries
  • racing or blank mind
  • inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • insomnia
  • exhaustion
  • feeling on edge, irritable or angry

Anxiety Disorders

Clearly anxiety is pretty unpleasant to live with for any length of time. Anxiety becomes a disorder when the feelings are long-lasting, more severe than the norm and start to interfere with work, school and relationships.

Sufferers can understandably want to stay away from the perceived threat and therefore avoidance behaviours are common. Unfortunately avoidance can lead to greater issues  as the threat looms larger in the mind and the cycle continues. If anxiety continues for a prolonged period, anxiety disorders can develop.

There are a number of different anxiety disorders including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Anxiety disorders are common with up to 5% of the UK population thought to suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, with women between the ages of 35 to 59 being the most common sufferers. The last UK wide survey on mental health reported in 2009 that 4.7 in every 100 people suffer from anxiety problems with 9.7 in 100 people suffering from anxiety mixed with depression.

If you are worried about someone suffering from anxiety, or indeed you recognise that you may be suffering from anxiety yourself, there is a lot of help available. Good websites include:

www.youngminds.org.uk – if you are worried about a child
CALM (for men aged 15-35)
Anxiety UK
No Panic

Coming up tomorrow…ways to treat anxiety




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