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Worries and anxiety

Everyone feels worried from time to time – it’s a normal part of life. Sometimes a little fear or worry is helpful – it can help you get ready for something important and motivate you. But sometimes worries and anxiety can be really overwhelming, distressing, and hard to shake.

What can cause anxiety?

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of being worried, nervous, or scared. Anxiety comes from stress, and can be caused by:

  • a special upcoming event that you’re worried about
  • big changes in your life or something upsetting happening
  • having lots of different worries over a long period of time

Anxiety can come and go without any obvious reason. It can be a difficult feeling to understand, but there are loads of things that can help you manage anxiety, feel better, and feel relaxed again.

Here are a few things young people say they often feel worried or anxious about:

  • school work, exams coming up or homework
  • problems with friends
  • family troubles at home
  • bullying
  • earthquakes and other natural disasters
  • what other people think about them
  • pressure to do well in sports or other after-school activities
  • not having enough money at home
  • a parent’s or a grandparent’s health 
  • puberty changes
  • having the right clothes or shoes
  • fitting in  
  • problems with a boyfriend or girlfriend

How does anxiety feel?

When you feel anxious you might:

  • get 'butterflies' in your stomach or feel sick
  • feel your heart beat faster
  • get shaky hands
  • find it hard to talk to people
  • become upset
  • feel tense
  • start to panic
  • find it hard to do school work
  • find it hard to sleep
  • feel really tired
  • feel a small worry grow, and get bigger and bigger in your head
  • imagine something really bad is going to happen
  • not feel like eating or eat more than usual
  • not want to go out, leave your parents, or go to school


Being over-anxious is when you feel anxious almost all of the time, and often feel anxious over everyday things, like interacting with people you don’t know well, ordering food in a café, making telephone calls, and worrying about what other people think of you. All this worry can really be hard going and may lead to:

  • intense self-consciousness
  • poor concentration
  • high stress levels
  • trouble sleeping 
  • restlessness and irritability
  • feeling unwell
  • feeling nervous, shaky or dizzy
  • avoiding people, places, and social situations
  • depression
  • panic attacks
  • post-traumatic stress
  • phobias

How can you manage anxiety?

  • The first step is to talk about it! – Talking with a friend, family member or trusted person about how you feel can often leave you feeling calmer and less alone. If you tell someone, they might be able to support you to get the help you need.
  • Try active problem solving – When a problem seems really big, it can be scary and hard to know where or how to start sorting it out. First of all, take a close look at the problem: When did it begin? What’s bothering you the most? How do you feel about what’s going on? What would you like to see happen next? Think of all of the options you have to tackle or deal with the problem, then write down the possible solutions and likely outcomes for each one. You could even rank your ideas from best to least helpful idea – this will help you decide what you want to do next.   
  • Deep breathing exercises – When you’re feeling worried, nervous or anxious, it’s important to remember to take deep breaths. This will help you feel calmer and prevent you from hyperventilating.
    1. Sit or lie in a comfortable position
    2. Gently breathe in deeply through your nose and count slowly to five, and feel your stomach rise
    3. Take a little pause, then slowly breathe out through your mouth, counting to five again. You might want to close your eyes, and make sure your shoulders are relaxed
    4. As you continue to breathe in and out, count “One…Two…Three...Four…Five”
    5. Do this for 5-10 minutes and notice your breathing slowing down and your body gradually relaxing. 
  • Have a laugh – Laughter can help you relax and feel better. Maybe you can call a friend and have a laugh, or you could think about a funny memory or watch a funny YouTube video or TV show.
  • Do something positive to distract yourself – Doing something you enjoy will take your mind off whatever is making you feel anxious. For example, you might like to listen to or play music, bake or cook something, go for a walk, play with a pet, read or do some art work.  
  • Exercise, get active – This will get rid of nervous energy, help you feel good, and help you sleep better too.
  • Build your confidence – Having a lot of worries or being under stress can really affect your confidence. Can you remember some nice things that people have said about you? What do your friends like about you? How about making a list of the things you like to do, the things you do well, and everything that’s great about you! You could make a list of all your strengths in a diary and read them every time you need a confidence boost.
  • Positive self-talk – Try to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. For example, if you catch yourself thinking something like, “I suck at maths. I’m going to fail tomorrow’s test”, replace this with a more positive statement like, “I know some parts of the test well, I’ll give it my best shot and find out what I need to do to improve next time”. Or, if you’re nervous before going to a party or social event, you could remind yourself “It won’t last long and I can handle it. I might even enjoy myself”, or “It’s not going to be as bad as I think. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. Besides, I can always leave if I need to. I’ll be okay”.    
  • Remember that anxiety is just a feeling – It can be an unpleasant and sometimes freaky feeling, but the anxiety itself can’t harm you. Anxiety is something everyone experiences from time to time, but the feeling can be managed and will eventually pass.

Panic attacks

A panic attack is a really freaky experience, it can be described as a sudden, overwhelming feeling of alarm and terror. If you have a panic attack:

  • you’ll usually start to breathe fast and shallow (hyperventilate)
  • your heart will start beating fast – some people have said it feels like having a heart attack
  • you might be shaky and dizzy and feel 'out of it'

If you have a panic attack, it might be really upsetting, but know that this is a common experience and the feelings themselves can’t hurt or kill you – it will pass, usually in about 15 to 20 minutes. It’s best to seek help and support from a professional like a counsellor, doctor, or psychologist, that can help you to manage anxiety and decrease the risk of it happening again, or call:

  • Phobic Trust 0800 14 ANXIETY (0800 14 269 4389)
  • 0800 Healthline (0800 611 116) to speak to a nurse

EMERGENCY: If you need help right away for someone who is having a panic attack, call for an ambulance on 111

What is post-traumatic stress?

Post-traumatic stress is when a person continues to feel a lot of anxiety related to a bad experience that happened in the past. Post-traumatic stress can happen to anyone who has experienced something terrifying like a car accident, abuse, assault, or a disaster like an earthquake.

Post-traumatic stress often causes:

  • nightmares and difficulty sleeping
  • flashbacks
  • going over and over what happened in your mind
  • depression
  • nervousness
  • numbness and feeling emotionally flat

If you, or someone you know, feel like you may have post-traumatic stress, please reach out for help. 


A phobia is an intense and unrealistic fear that leads to avoidance of the thing that is feared. Often the thing that frightens the person with the phobia may not be as frightening to other people. Some common phobias include enclosed spaces, crowds, blushing, birds, spiders, and the sight of blood. There are also phobias that relate to certain situations such as heights, flying in an airplane, or speaking in public. People with phobias often do anything and everything to avoid the thing or situation that freaks them out.

Often people with phobias know that their feelings of fear are irrational but this doesn’t make any difference. Phobias can be really distressing and get in the way of doing all the things you want to do.  But with the right help, people can and often do get over phobias more quickly than you might think, so best seek help from a professional like a counsellor, doctor, or psychologist, or call the Phobic Trust on 0800 14 ANXIETY (0800 14 269 4389).