Being young and having your whole life in front of you can be an exciting time for growth and trying out new ventures. This is a time of much change, going off to high school, college, apprenticeships, work experience or further education including the events and people going on around them. There is also much change going on within them, changes in their body and developing ideas and beliefs in their minds.
Sometimes young people find these changes challenging and may experience anxiety, with lots of changes happening in their bodies, and around them at school and with friendship groups, or related to family issues. Many young people feel pressured to do well and over-perform than ever before creating worry that they may not be on par with their peers. Young people also face challenges surrounding social media, comparing themselves to others, bombarded with messages online, from people they know and people they don’t. For some it’s not an easy time, and they may benefit from a bit of help to navigate their way through these issues and help to gain the life skills they need to manage their anxiety and worry and find ways to feel happier when times are tough.
Anxiety is the word we often use to describe our feelings when we are worried, tense, or scared.
Anxiety can make us feel physical sensations, like shortness of breath, sweating, heart racing and as well as psychological effects of worry and anxiety, it can make us change our behaviours in response. For example, if we are feeling anxious, we might avoid things that we believe are dangerous; this will make us feel more anxious, and before long we stop doing things we usually do. This is called the vicious cycle, which we talk about later in this blog.
Experiencing feelings of anxiety is very common, and everyone feels this emotion from time-to-time. Even people who seem confident and positive on the outside might experience anxiety. Quite often young people don’t know how to manage anxiety and worry, but anxiety is a natural reaction to the challenges of adolescence and life events. You can help pre-teens and teenagers manage anxiety by talking, spending time together, and encouraging healthy choices.
It is useful to explain to the young person that experiencing anxiety is a natural part of the way we keep ourselves safe. When we feel like we might be in danger our brain tells our body to get ready to deal with it immediately. As a result, you can experience a range of different feelings in your mind and body, and this can also lead to changes in your behaviour.
Anxiety is felt differently by everyone, but some commonly described feelings/sensations are listed below:
In your body (physically) you may experience:
- Breathing more quickly (shallow, short breaths)
- Feeling faint, lightheaded or having shaky legs
- Racing heart
- Feeling sick and having a churning or upset stomach
- Restlessness or fidgetiness
- Tense and tight muscles
- Trouble sleeping
In your mind you may experience:
- Intensely worrying thoughts
- Feelings of anger or upset
- Feeling afraid, as if something awful might happen
- Intrusive thoughts (unpleasant thoughts that you can’t get rid of) that keep coming back
In your actions (behaviour) you may experience:
- Repeatedly checking things
- Needing reassurance from others
- Putting off doing things
- Avoiding certain situations or things
Explaining The Vicious Cycle
Have you wondered how a vicious circle works? Let’s say for example you didn’t do well in a school exam- how does this life event affect how you think about things? Some of the thoughts that might go through your head could be “I have let people down”, I’m stupid, I won’t get into university or college.… and a whole host of other unhelpful negative thoughts.
When we are stressed, we often don’t see life in a balanced way, and we focus on negative things. Bad thoughts go round and around in our head- this is called ‘altered thinking.’
When we are upset and stressed we experience all sorts of emotions and feelings- low mood, worry, guilt, shame, anger, irritation- these feelings are known as ‘altered feelings’- the cycle starts to spin and we are thinking and feeling unhelpful things.
Altered physical feelings
Then you may start to feel physically ill, you might experience symptoms like shaking, butterflies, you may have trouble sleeping, be tired, have no appetite, and be more prone to catching colds and coughs- this is called ‘altered physical feelings’.
Altered physical symptoms leave you feeling bad mentally as well as physically- you might not bother getting up some days. You stop paying bills, meeting friends, you may be too tired to clean the house or go out. This is known as ‘altered behaviour.’
Altered behaviour completes the vicious circle- now you feel low- physically tired and may have stopped doing things and can’t be bothered going out.
Now our altered thinking gets worse, and we get further down, and we do less and the less we do the worse we feel.
Overcoming Stress, Anxiety and Low Mood
The good news is no matter how anxious you feel you can spin the vicious cycle the other way. By changing just one thing in the vicious cycle we can stop it spinning and control it. It’s not the actual event that affects how we feel, but how we react to the event that matters. We can control how we deal with events in our lives, if we learn how to do this.
Different Kinds of Anxiety
We all experience anxiety, but like most human traits how we experience anxiety varies from person to person. Some people don’t get anxious very often, whilst other people find it difficult to switch off from their worry.
For some young people it may be mainly around social events such as certain activities or situations. For example, hanging out in big groups at school, attending assembly, or taking public transport. Certain school subjects may also be more challenging, like drama, or having to read aloud in class. This often leads to avoudance of the ‘feared’ situation or people. Leading to self isolation and they spend more time in their ‘safe space,’ like their bedroom.
Some people experience a continuous feeling of anxiety, and have worrying thoughts about many different things, which may feel difficult to control. They are in a almost constant state of worry going from one to the other.
Some people experience an intense fear of particular objects, places, or situations- this is know as a phobia.
Others can experience upsetting and intrusive thoughts or pictures in their mind, which can develop into a mental health condition called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). People with OCD may get urges to do things that they feel they are unable to resist. They may feel the need to carry out certain behaviours to try and stop these distressing thoughts and get a feeling that something bad may happen if they don’t do them.
Some people experience episodes called panic attacks, where their feelings of anxiety become overwhelming. Panic attacks are usually short lived but intense. During a panic attack, as well as feelings of anxiety, the person might have frightening thoughts (like feeling as though something terrible may happen).
For most people feeling more anxious than usual is something they can manage and is part of the ordinary stresses and strains of growing up. For others anxiety becomes more persistent and has a significant on-going impact upon day-to-day life. If this happens to you, getting further information or support could be helpful.
There are lots of different reasons someone may experience anxiety and having a family member with anxiety can increase your chances of experiencing anxiety but doesn’t mean you will automatically have those worries yourself. Difficult life experiences increase the likelihood of developing anxiety, though, we all react differently to our life experiences and something that makes one person anxious won’t necessarily cause anxiety in someone else.
Things that might cause anxiety include:
- Lots of change or uncertainty in your life
- Ongoing family conflict
- Problems with housing, such as eviction, or not having a permanent address
- Problems with money, like your parents not being able to afford to pay bills or rent
- Someone close to you dying
- Experiencing a distressing or traumatic event (like being assaulted or being in a car accident)
- Worries about issues in the news (for example the environment or wars)
- Bullying, discrimination, and exclusion (in person and on the internet)
- Stress caused by exams or school work
- Ongoing physical health problems
- Using recreational drugs, medications and alcohol
- Big changes in your day-to-day life
- Physical, sexual or emotional abuse, and neglect (a persistent lack of love, care, and attention)
Despite the impact worry can have on a young person’s life, the good news is we can learn to control and manage our worry with a bit of practice. Whichever way anxiety affects them, using the ‘Worry Box’ book provides three tools to help change happen – Face it, Fix it and Forget it.
It’s natural when we fear something to avoid it. It makes sense, doesn’t it? However, the trouble is avoiding things doesn’t fix them. It’s easy to fall into patterns of behaviour that make us feel safer at the time and we get that sense of relief. But in the long-term avoidance backfires and reduces our confidence – so our world becomes smaller and smaller, chipping away at our confidence even more.
Start by thinking about one thing they have been avoiding. Be specific and ensure it’s something they would like to overcome. Nothing too big so it seems too daunting, but not too small that it doesn’t take them forward. Visualise the end goal and then use our Face It Planner sheet to break down the journey down to get to that end point one step at a time.
If worry is caused by an external challenge or problem that needs to be tackled but seems too much to do? The good news is that if you’re facing one big problem in your life, all you have to do is fix the problem that’s causing it. It could be a problem like passing an exam, or a relationship challenge such as a fall out with a friend or having too much to do.
The first step is to cut the problem down into chunks, and tackle one manageable chunk at a time. Then work out how you’re going to sort out each chunk, by making a plan and carrying it out. It’s called the Easy 4-step Plan (E4SP).
Problems are like climbing walls we need to know where to start and where to go next. The easy 4 step plan will help you climb any wall – and tackle any problem.
If feeling overwhelmed by worry. Worrying about something you’ve done or not done, said, or not said, blaming yourself for something, or anxious about what others think of you? These types of worries can become a habit going round and round in our minds (rumination), so worrying thoughts can feel very difficult to shift. If so, the third element of the Worry Box programme- Forget it– can help you respond differently.
Unhelpful thoughts are the opposite of helpful thoughts. They don’t serve any real purpose because they don’t solve problems or even provide helpful ideas or solutions. In fact, they make us feel worse – stressed and low, and can unhelpfully affect what we do (with avoidance and other unhelpful responses described earlier in this blog).
You can also find our blog on shyness. Read the blog here.
If you or your young person is struggling with worry, anxiety or panic, you can buy family access, or single use access for either 6 or 12 months to our online course, and the young person can work through the course modules in their own time or with you, or alongside our LLTTF Young People Combined book (LINK) The course has downloadable worksheets, audio and more.
Find out more visit www.llttfyp.com
The Living Life to the Full Team