A guide for young people Anxiety

We all experience anxiety from time to time. If it’s causing you distress and affecting your life, you deserve support. Find out more about anxiety symptoms, causes and what you can do to feel better.

What is anxiety?

Three young people chatting and smiling while sitting at a picnic bench.

Anxiety is when you feel scared, worried or panicked about something. It’s a normal, human feeling and your body’s natural response to stress or danger. Anyone can experience anxiety, regardless of age, gender, race, culture or faith.

We all feel anxious from time to time. Day-to-day things like friendship, money, exams or work can cause anxiety. Or certain situations, such as travelling home at night, starting a new school or giving a presentation. But the feeling usually passes once we feel safe or solve the problem we had. Generally the worries stop and we’re able to carry on with our lives.

A girl with a shaved head wearing a t-shirt and black jeans. She is sitting on the ground and leaning against a green brick wall.

As humans evolved, our brains developed an inbuilt alarm system. It warns us when something isn’t right and we need to keep ourselves safe. This alarm triggers what is known as the ‘fight or flight’ response – this is when your body prepares to either run away, fight, or freeze.

Think about what happens in your body when you feel anxious. You might feel a churning feeling in your stomach, dizzy or light-headed or hot and sweaty. These symptoms are all part of the fight or flight response.

This can make us feel like we’re in physical danger, but it’s important to remember that feeling this way doesn’t necessarily mean you are in danger.

What happens to our body in fight-or-flight mode?

When our brains are in fight-or-flight mode, our thinking brain – the part that helps you think clearly, learn and solve problems – switches off. This makes it hard to stay calm and control your emotions and behaviour. We evolved to have this response to help us react to dangerous situations our ancestors faced, like being chased by a predator.

But in modern life, we don’t tend to face dangers like this anymore. Instead, our anxiety can be triggered by more complicated situations or feelings where it might not help us to run away, fight or freeze. Yet we still experience the fight-or-flight response.

There are things you can do to help when you feel this way. You can use activities that soothe or distract you and bring your attention back to your body and senses. This calms the fight-or-flight response and switches the thinking brain back on so you can start to feel better.

When does anxiety become a problem?

  • Anxiety becomes a problem when it is more long term and you feel stuck in your worries or fears. They may last for a long time, even after a stressful situation has passed. You might feel upset and overwhelmed, as if your worries are too big to manage. Or they may stop you from doing everyday things.

    When anxiety becomes a problem, it is sometimes called an anxiety disorder. There are different types of anxiety disorders and they can affect your life in different ways. Speaking to your GP, or someone else you trust, can help you find out what the problem is and how you can take care of yourself.

    For more advice on reaching out for help, take a look at our guide.

Living with anxiety

Young people have told us that their anxiety has sometimes been dismissed as perfectionism or the normal ups and downs of being a teenager. But if it’s impacting your life, it’s important to get the help you need. Remember, however you’re feeling is valid, even if you’re not sure why you feel the way you do.

Anxiety can feel lonely and impact your self-esteem, but you are not alone. Things can improve and get better. Our section on looking after yourself if you have anxiety has lots of information to help you find what works for you.

We asked young people what it’s like to live with anxiety. Here's what they said:

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

What causes anxiety?

A boy wearing a grey t-shirt sits beside a window while using Facebook on his laptop.

There are lots of things that can cause anxiety. It could be how you feel in specific situations, however big or small, or life events that are out of your control. It might be because of something that happened in the past, worries about the future or things that you know could happen.

We all experience stressful situations in different ways. What makes you feel anxious might not make someone else feel anxious at all. That doesn’t make your feelings wrong. We all have different things that we find difficult and that’s okay.

Sometimes it’s really clear what’s making us anxious, but sometimes it’s not. You might feel like your anxiety comes out of nowhere and this can be upsetting and confusing. But how you feel is valid. There’s no right or wrong thing to feel anxious about.

Some common things that can cause anxiety include:

Discrimination and anxiety

Experiencing discrimination against your identity can also be a big source of anxiety. This could be because of your race, religion, abilities, sexuality, gender identity or something else. You might experience abuse, injustice or be scared to be yourself. Discrimination is never okay, and you deserve to feel proud of who you are.

We know that if you’re experiencing discrimination, talking to someone you trust can really help. But it can help to talk to someone who understands you and your background. See the bottom of this page for a list of organisations that work with specific groups of young people to offer tailored support.

Illustration by Elena Fiorenza. A sitting fox has a thinking bubble with a heart inside and text on their tail reads, 'at this very moment, someone somewhere feels the same way you do. And that makes me feel a bit less alone.'

Illustration by @fiorenza_art. A sitting fox has a thinking bubble with a heart inside and text on their tail reads, 'at this very moment, someone somewhere feels the same way you do. And that makes me feel a bit less alone.'

Symptoms and signs of anxiety

Anxiety looks and feels different for everyone. We might notice anxiety in:

  • stomach problems, such as pains, feeling sick or diarrhoea
  • heart beating really fast
  • fast, shallow breathing
  • feeling light-headed, dizzy or faint
  • grinding your teeth
  • shaking or trembling
  • sweating more than usual

  • nervous, on edge and unable to relax
  • overwhelmed
  • like something bad is going to happen
  • out of control
  • tired and grumpy
  • needing reassurance or worrying you’ve upset someone
  • self-conscious

  • finding it difficult to concentrate
  • eating more or less
  • needing the toilet more or less
  • tense or fidgety
  • sleep problems
  • having panic attacks

Anxiety is a healthy human emotion that we all feel sometimes. That means most of us will have felt some of these feelings at some point. So if some of these symptoms feel familiar, that doesn't mean you have a problem.

But if any of them are affecting your everyday life or causing you distress, it’s a good idea to tell someone you trust or speak to your GP. We have lots of advice and information in our guide on how to talk to your GP.

How to speak to your GP
The clasped hands of two people talking seriously.
These physical symptoms can be so frustrating and a huge discomfort. And when we don’t know how common they are, it can leave us feeling all alone.

Types of anxiety disorders

Understanding different types of anxiety disorders can help you understand your own experience better and explain it to people you trust. As there are many ways to experience anxiety, you might recognise your experience in more than one anxiety disorder, or you might not recognise your experience here at all. That doesn’t mean that your experience isn’t valid.

The important thing is that you speak to your GP if you are struggling with anxiety, however that looks. They can help you find the support that’s right for you, whatever you’re going through.

If you have GAD you might find it difficult to control your worries. You can feel symptoms of anxiety often or all the time. This might be completely out of the blue or triggered by a range of situations. This can include situations where you might not expect to feel anxious.

Symptoms of GAD can include:

  • feeling restless, irritable or on edge
  • being unable to control worries
  • having difficulty concentrating
  • getting tired easily
  • sleep problems
  • pain such as headaches, muscle aches and stomach aches

Social anxiety isn’t the same as shyness. Social anxiety is where you experience an overwhelming fear of social situations. You might worry about or avoid being around people, speaking on the phone, going shopping or to school and work. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it’s so important to reach out for help.

Take a look at Emily's blog on what she learnt about dealing with social phobia.

Coping with social phobia

You may have health anxiety if you spend a lot of time worrying about feeling ill or getting ill. You might constantly check your body for signs of illness and spend a lot of time researching symptoms. Or need a lot of reassurance that you’re not unwell, even when your GP tells you that you are healthy. This fear can affect your life in many ways and make you avoid certain situations.

Hattie shares her experience of developing health anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic. Check out her blog on how she learnt to manage her worries.

What it's like to develop health anxiety

It’s normal to experiences nerves, worry or stress when you’re studying. Especially when you have exams or assignments coming up. But if your anxiety feels too overwhelming and you’re finding it hard to cope, it’s time to reach out for help. Speaking to someone you trust is the first step towards getting support. This could be someone at school or university, your GP or someone close to you.

A phobia is an overwhelming fear of something or a situation. It can affect your day-to-day life and be very distressing. You might avoid the object of your phobia altogether and worry a lot about coming into contact with it. Or you might experience anxiety symptoms even when you think about it. Other people might struggle to understand your fear, making it feel difficult to reach out, but help is available.

Visit our guide on phobias to find out more.


Agoraphobia is a type of phobia and it can be experienced in lots of ways. You might be scared to leave a safe space, such as your home. Or you might be afraid of being left alone, or in a situation where you feel trapped and can’t get help. It’s important to talk to someone about agoraphobia as this can really affect your day-to-day life. If you don’t feel able to visit your GP, you can ask for a phone call instead. You could also ask someone you trust to go with you.

If you have a panic disorder, you regularly experience panic attacks. These are usually sudden and out of the blue, without a clear cause, and can be difficult to manage. You might also be constantly worried about if and when a panic attack will happen. Remember, you are not alone and there is lots of support available. Take a look at our guide on panic attacks to find out more.

Our bloggers shared their tips for before, during and after panic attacks.

Tips for managing panic attacks

Treating anxiety disorders

Illustration by Emily @21andsensory. Black text in the centre of a white background reads, 'believe in yourself and magic will happen.'

Illustration by Emily @21andsensory. Black text in the centre of a white background reads, 'believe in yourself and magic will happen.'

Feeling constant anxiety can be a sign that something isn’t right, and you may need some help figuring out what that is. Your GP can suggest different types of treatment that can help if they think you’re suffering from anxiety. They can also offer regular check-ups to see how you’re doing.

There are a few different ways of treating anxiety disorders. Your treatment will depend on your age and the cause of your anxiety. You might try one, or end up using a combination of treatment options. The important thing is to find what works best for you.

Take a look below at the different types of treatment you may be offered.

At first, your GP may offer you a self-help course. This can help you learn skills to cope with your anxiety. While doing the course, your GP will check in with you to see how you’re doing.

The self-help course could be:

  • a workbook or computer course to do in your own time
  • a workbook or computer course with support from a therapist
  • a group course with a therapist and other people who experience anxiety

If this doesn’t feel like the right support for you, let your GP know. They can help you try other treatments.

A man and woman seated opposite each other at a picnic table

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

Have a look at our counselling and therapy guide to find out more about different types of talking therapies and what happens in a therapy session.

Counselling and therapy

A boy wearing glasses and a black hoodie stands in a park looking worried. He is rubbing the back of his neck with one hand.

Applied relaxation can help you manage the physical symptoms of anxiety. The focus is to learn how to relax your muscles in a particular way. You can then use this technique when you’re in situations that usually cause anxiety.

Take a look at Eve's blog on how Progressive Muscle Relaxation helps her when she feels anxious or panicked.

How I use Progressive Muscle Relaxation for anxiety

Medication might help you manage some of your symptoms. However, it is unlikely to solve the root cause of your anxiety. Your doctor might suggest you try taking medication alongside talking therapy.

Some of the medications for anxiety you might be offered include:

To find out more about medications, how they work and information on side effects, have a look at our guide to medication.

Guide to medication
Two girls sitting on a blue sofa. They are looking at each other and talking.
Lorazepam has been really useful in helping me control my anxiety when nothing else seems to work.

If anxiety is stopping you from going to the doctor

It can be difficult if making appointments and going to the doctor gives you anxiety. If your anxiety is stopping you from getting treatment, let your GP know. They will be able to make arrangements to help.

For example, they could arrange phone calls or home visits. You could take someone with you to appointments or ask someone to call the GP for you. It’s okay to tell your GP if you are struggling and need to make adjustments.

Waiting times

You may have heard that waiting times for mental health support can be quite long. The reality is that this will vary on the type of support that your GP thinks you need and where you are in the country. The waiting times vary in different areas. If you would like to know more about this, it’s okay to ask your GP when they refer you. They may not know exactly, but they might be able to give you a rough timeframe.

This can feel really frustrating. But it’s important to remember that how you’re feeling is valid, however long you have to wait for support. Also, there are lots of things you can do to help yourself while you’re waiting. Take a look at some tips that young people have told us helped them.

I noticed behaviours, mindsets and thought patterns that were having a negative effect on my mental health, and I still use the techniques I learnt in CBT to cope with these.
To this day, I still use these methods if I feel a wave of anxiety coming on, and they have truly helped me become stronger and more able to cope with difficulties in life.

Ways to look after yourself if you have anxiety

Two young men sit on a park bench overlooking a lake. One has his arm on the other's shoulder to comfort him.

If you’re struggling with anxiety, there are things you can do and support available to help you feel better. Different techniques will work for different people, and there might be one or two activities that you know you can use at different times.

For example, breathing and mindfulness. This could help you feel calm before doing something that you know makes you anxious. But this might not help in an anxious moment. Instead, you might move or stretch your body, play a game, or focus your attention on your senses and what’s around you.

Below are some coping technique ideas that you can try.

  • Find a local support group

    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. Finding someone who feels the same way as you can feel like a weight has been lifted.

  • Talk to someone you trust

    Opening up to someone you trust, whether that’s a relative, friend, teacher, a community or faith leader, can really help. Sometimes we just need someone to listen and validate how we’re feeling. You might also find that they understand or have experienced anxiety too.

  • Try grounding techniques

    It’s helpful to have some techniques that you can use when you're feeling really anxious or having a panic attack. They can help you to feel calmer, such as breathing techniques that help you pause and slow down.

  • Take a break

    Sometimes it’s as simple as stopping whatever you’re doing and going back to it later when you feel calmer. Take the time to slow down and do something that brings you peace. For example, spend time with someone you trust, your pets, or go somewhere you feel safe.

  • Try mindfulness and meditation

    There are lots of helpful apps such as Calm and Headspace to help you get started. Once you know the techniques, you might find it better to sit quietly and practise on your own.

  • Manage your worries

    Figuring out if your worries are in your power can make them less overwhelming. If it’s a problem that you can solve, write down how you’re going to solve it, make a plan and set a date to do it. If you can’t, then the worry is out of your control and you can decide to let it go. It can also help to set aside ‘worry time’ when you allow yourself to go through what’s bothering you. Once the time is up, you can focus on other things.

Self-help techniques for anxiety aren’t a replacement for getting help or a way for you to fix anxiety on your own. They are ways of looking after your mental health, like we would our physical health. Take a look at some ideas below.

Self-soothing activities

  • Keeping a diary of your thoughts, worries and about times when you feel anxious can help you recognise signs or patterns in your anxiety. This empowers you to know when you need to ask for help or do something to help yourself.
  • Playing games with your friends or on your own is a great way to take time out from daily life. This could be sports, jigsaws, card games or video games. There are also lots of apps to help us relax and feel calmer, such as puzzles, classic arcade games or playing with patterns and colours.
  • Express yourself in creative ways. This could be anything from drawing and painting to photography or baking. Keeping ourselves busy and making something can help us manage our worries and feel present.
  • Relax by listening to a playlist of songs or a podcast that you find soothing. Or rewatch your favourite TV show or movie that feels familiar to you.

How to 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. Have a look at Eve's blog for more ideas on what you could put in your self-soothe box.

How to make a self-soothe box
Play Video: What is a self-soothe box? What is a self-soothe box?

Practising self-care

In its simplest form, self-care is just the little things we do to look after our mental health. Alongside relaxing activities, self-care can also be showing ourselves compassion, setting boundaries or not comparing ourselves to others. Self-care will look different for everyone.

Take a look at our guides for more advice on finding out what self-care means for you.

How to support a friend with anxiety

It can be difficult to know what to do if your friend or someone close to you is struggling with anxiety. It’s normal to feel worried, confused or scared of saying or doing the wrong thing. But remember that it’s not your responsibility to fix anything. Sometimes just listening to how they’re feeling can be a really big help.

If a friend opens up to you about struggling with anxiety, here are some things you can do to support them.

If your friend is in an anxious moment, the best thing to do is help them calm down and feel safe. You could try taking slow, deep breaths together, reassure them that they will be okay, or sit with them until it passes.

Try to remember that someone experiencing anxiety can’t control their worries or choose how they feel. It can be difficult to understand anxiety if it’s something that you don’t experience. Try not to make assumptions about their behaviour or dismiss their worries. Remind them that it’s okay and although what they’re going through sounds really difficult, they are not alone.

Anxiety can affect people in many ways and what is helpful for one person might not be helpful for another. If you’re not sure how to support your friend, the best thing to do is ask what they need. They might not know the answers yet, but it lets them know that you’re ready to try when they do.

Try not to make anxiety a big deal in your relationship with the person. Spending time together and talking about other things can really help take their mind off anxiety. Try to keep inviting them to things, letting them know there’s no pressure to join if they don’t feel up to it. Even if they say no, this can help to reassure them that you care. You could even encourage and help them do the things that they enjoy.

If you’re worried about your friend, you can encourage them to speak to an adult they trust, such as a relative or carer, or find professional help.

You can advise your friend to speak to a doctor or someone at their school, college or university for professional help. There are also helplines and online resources at the bottom of this page that you can recommend. Your friend might not want to seek help, but it’s important to try.

A group of three young people laugh and chat while sitting on the ground beside a tree in the park.

It’s important to remember to look after your own mental health too and only support them in ways that feel manageable for you. It’s not all on you to support your friend with anxiety. For more information and advice, have a look at our guide on supporting a friend with their mental health.

Supporting a friend with their mental health
A young person smiling at their friend who is walking towards them.
We never really spoke of my troubles explicitly; he just knew that I was struggling and was always on hand to suggest fun activities and encourage me to do them with him.
Will, 25

Where to get help

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

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This page was reviewed in June 2023.

It was co-created by young people with lived experience of anxiety.

We will next review the page in 2026.

YoungMinds is a proud member of PIF TICK – the UK's quality mark for trusted health information.

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