A guide for young people Anxiety

It’s really common to develop anxiety at some point. Find out here what causes it and what you can do to feel better.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal, human feeling of fear or panic. When we face stressful situations, it can set off our brain’s in-built alarm bell system, which tells us something isn’t right and that we need to deal with it. Our brain wants the difficult situation to go away, so it makes us feel more alert, stops us thinking about other things, and even pumps more blood to our legs to help us run away.

Most of us worry sometimes – about things like friendships or money – and feel anxious when we’re under stress, like at exam time. But afterwards we usually calm down and feel better.

But when you’re not in a stressful situation, and you still feel worried or panicky, that’s when anxiety can become a problem.

Celebrity vlogger Zoe Sugg (Zoella) revealed that she often suffers from anxiety, so she’s had some professional help to learn tools and techniques that help her manage it and live a calmer life.

Just remember that if you're struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, you're not alone.
Kaitlyn, 15

The symptoms of anxiety

Instagram artwork by @Alyserurianidesign. A note taped to a surface reading words by @sentfromdevyn 'If you're reading this: release your shoulders away from your ears, unclench your jaw, drop your tongue from the roof of your mouth.'

Post credit: @alyserurianidesign. The artwork depicts a white square stuck onto a light blue wall with sellotape. In the white square, highlighted in yellow are the words: 'if you're reading this:'. Underneath that is a list in handwriting, the first one in capitals reads: 'release your shoulders' underneath in lower case handwriting: 'away from your ears'. The second one in capitals reads 'unclench your jaw'. The third one in capitals reads: 'drop your tongue from', underneath in lower case handwriting is: the roof of your mouth'.

You might start out just feeling generally anxious, but if your symptoms get worse or last longer than they should, it could be time to get some support. Symptoms include:

  • feeling nervous, on edge, or panicky all the time
  • feeling overwhelmed or full of dread
  • feeling out of control
  • having trouble sleeping
  • low appetite
  • finding it difficult to concentrate
  • feeling tired and grumpy
  • heart beating really fast or thinking you’re having a heart attack
  • having a dry mouth
  • trembling, or having wobbly legs
  • feeling faint
  • stomach cramps and/or diarrhoea/needing to pee more than usual
  • sweating more than usual
  • getting very hot

If you experience any of these symptoms above, it doesn’t mean you definitely have an anxiety problem. But if any of them are affecting your everyday life, it’s a good idea to tell someone you trust about how you’re feeling.

What to do about anxiety

Feeling constant anxiety can be a sign that something in your life isn’t right, and you may need some help figuring out what that is.

Talk to your GP
If they think you’re suffering from anxiety, whether mild or severe, they can suggest different types of treatment that might help. They can also offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.

How to speak to your GP
  • Remember you are resilient and you will get back up when you fall down.

Make a self-soothe box

Our Activists explain what a self-soothe box is, how it can help you when you're feeling anxious or panicky, and what they have in theirs.

Treating anxiety

There are ways of treating anxiety. You might try one, or end up using a combination. The important thing is to find what works best for you.

There are quite a few things you can do yourself to help manage your anxiety. You could try mindfulness and meditation - there are helpful apps such as Calm and Headspace which you might find helpful in managing your anxiety.

Your GP can tell you where to find local support groups. You can also look online at Anxiety UK for tools, tips and information on support networks.

Medication might help you manage some of your symptoms and your doctor might suggest you try taking medication alongside talking therapy.

Find out more about mental health medication

You may also find it helpful to have some techniques you can use when you're feeling really anxious or having a panic attack. These are techniques that can help you to feel calmer. If you're not sure where to start, have a look at these ideas from our bloggers:

Find out more about panic attacks

Talking therapy can help you get to the root of what is causing your anxiety. With cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), you work with a therapist who helps you understand your thoughts and feelings, and then helps you explore ways to change how they affect you. You also learn practical techniques to help you relax and cope better in everyday life.

Find out more about counselling and therapy

Tips from our Activists and bloggers on dealing with anxiety

  • I really wish I could tell 17-year-old Emily to just tell someone. Believe me, it feels so much better to get your worries out of your head and be honest about what you’re going through.
  • (If you find seeing family and friends difficult), try to remind yourself that there’s no danger with your family or friends, and that you are safe with them.
  • Write a letter to yourself explain how you feel and why. Be as open and truthful with yourself as you can be. A few days later, read it back imagining someone else wrote it to think how you would help them.
  • Sometimes all you need to do is stop and focus on your breathing. I have learned many techniques over my time in counselling, and finding one that works for you is important.
  • I’ve found that imagining my anxious thoughts physically leaving my brain and floating off into the sky really helps me.
  • As stressful and anxiety-inducing as seeking help can be in itself, talking to someone and receiving support is the only way to overcome it.

Real stories from young people

Blushing, sweating, shaking, constipation, diarrhoea, the constant need to pee and the struggle to eat are all part of the package that we didn't sign up for – and that’s okay.
If you look up ‘calming breathing techniques’ you’ll be able to find many of your own. I breathe in for seven seconds and out for 11 seconds, which just helps me to stop and focus.
Instagram artwork by @twentysevenLKLD. The heading reads 'Things That Help Anxiety'. Graphic shows coloured spots with suggestions underneath.

Artwork credit: @twentysevenlkld

A white square sits on a dark yellow background. In the square there are 12 circles of all different colours. At the top of the white square it reads: things that help anxiety. Underneath each circle are different tips to help with anxiety. They read: phone a friend, deep breathing, hold on to someone, go for a walk, showers & baths with oils, engage all 5 senses, distractions (TV, paint nails, walk dog), calming music, do something with your hands, write it out, drink cold water, cuddled a weighted blanket.

Where to get help

If anxiety is taking over, you are not alone. Here are some services that can help you get through this. 

  • No Panic

    Supports people struggling with panic attacks, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety-related issues - and provides support and information for their carers.

    Offers a specialist youth helpline for people aged 13-20. The opening hours are 3pm - 6pm, Monday - Friday; 6pm - 8pm, Thursdays and Saturdays.

    Call 01952 680835 for a recorded breathing exercise to help you through a panic attack (available 24/7).

    Information about call costs here.

    Opening times:
    10am - 10pm, 365 days a year
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    3pm - 12am, seven days a week
  • OCD Action

    Offers support and information to anybody affected by obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

    Opening times:
    9:30am - 8pm, Monday - Friday
  • Student Minds

    Supports students to look after their mental health by providing information and advice.

    They also provide details about local services offered by universities and information on how you can access support group programmes.

    You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).