Worries, fears and anxiety are very common experiences for everyone. In fact, anxiety is important for our survival and success. For example, anxiety can help us with being safe (looking both ways before you cross the street). Almost all children, youth and adults experience fear, worries and anxiety to some extent. For some, the anxiety is only for a short time, others have it for longer. Anxiety can cause you to feel sick at times, such as having headaches and stomach aches. It is also normal to be fearful or worried about something for a short period of time, like giving a talk, or being in an unfamiliar environment. About one in 10 children, youth and adults will have anxiety that interferes with their life, gets in the way of what they should be doing, and causes a lot of distress.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is triggered in the brain, and is the body’s way of keeping track of important things. Sometimes if a person is tired, upset, sad, stressed or hungry, the brain is more likely to worry or to feel anxious about something. In some situations, when you feel anxious or fearful, your internal fear alarm might go off. This leads to a full body response called the fright/flight response. Your body is tricked by your brain into thinking it is in survival mode and this is when most people experience a panic attack. You may experience a racing heart, aching chest, shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, trembling, and thoughts that you might be dying. About one in five young people will experience a panic attack. Panic attacks come on quickly and are quite scary, but rarely last more than several minutes. Sometimes panic attacks can become more frequent or severe. It starts to affect your life, you become afraid to leave your house, scared of being in open spaces (like malls or schools), and worry about having another panic attack.
So what can you do about anxiety? First of all, think about what is going on in your life. Have there been things that have been stressful or difficult for you? How are you doing at taking care of yourself? Often when we are going through a difficult time, we stop doing the things our body and brain need to help cope with stress such as getting enough sleep, exercising, eating healthy, seeing friends and family, and doing things we enjoy. When we stop taking care of our body and brain, anxiety and stress get worse. Try to find ways to relax in the day, even if it is just for a few minutes. Listen to music, do some yoga, read a good book or have a warm bath. When anxiety does happen, or you are worried about something, identify that this is anxiety. Is what you are worried about realistic, or is your anxiety making it bigger than it should be? Try to think like a detective and collect some evidence as to whether this is something you need to worry about. Figure out what the next thing would be to help you with what you are worried about. One suggestion would be to talk to someone you trust. It is okay to ask for help and support when you are feeling anxious or worried. Sometimes other people can help you solve problems or think about the situation in a different way. Try not to let anxiety make you avoid things that you usually do and should be doing (e.g. going to school). Avoidance makes anxiety worse in the long run. For other suggestions and strategies in managing anxiety, please visit www.anxietybc.com.
Sometimes anxiety doesn’t go away. It gets bigger and bossier, and takes over your life. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when fears, worries, or anxiety cause serious distress and get in the way of everyday activities. If you are feeling that anxiety is too much in control of your life, there are supports in your community that can help.
Talking to a parent, school guidance counsellor or family doctor is a good place to start for getting help.