Anxiety disorders

Anxiety is very common and affects around one in ten young people by the time they are 16 years old. We all experience anxiety at times caused by everyday life, but anxiety disorders are different to normal anxieties or worries, as they can often impact on your day-to-day life and cause real distress to the person experiencing them.

There are different types of anxiety which include:

Separation anxiety

This is when a person experiences high levels of worry and fear about being separated from a parent or caregiver. It can lead a child or young person to have lots of worries or nightmares about harm coming to their parent/caregiver or themselves when separated. To avoid this feared harm, the young person will avoid being separated from their loved one where possible.

This may lead them to struggle to go to school or anywhere where the parent or carer is not present. This type of anxiety is common in young children (typically 5-7 years) but it can be experienced at any age.

Generalised anxiety

Although normal worry is common in young people and adults, it is described as 'generalised anxiety' when it is excessive and uncontrollable, and linked to a range of different things. Alongside the worry, people often experience unpleasant physical symptoms such as feeling panicky, stomach upsets, poor sleep, muscle tension and problems concentrating. This type of anxiety mostly starts around the age of 10-13 years but can begin at any age.

Social anxiety

This anxiety problem specifically relates to social situations. The person experiences a huge fear of social situations and as a way of coping, will try and avoid them. They often fear they will humiliate or embarrass themselves. This typically starts in early adolescence.

Specific phobia

Phobias or fears of objects or events are very common. However, whey they begin to have a negative impact on your life, and lead to significant distress, they can become a problem. A phobia is an excessive and unrealistic fear of a specific object or event – common ones include spider phobias and a phobia of needles, or other things such as vomiting. You can find more information on Phobias here.

Panic disorder

This is the name given to a condition where people who have experienced a panic attack out of the blue go on to develop a real fear about having another one. As a consequence they will be constantly on the lookout for any possible early warning signs in their body of a possible imminent panic attack. They may also try and avoid situations in which they fear having a panic attack could lead to some sort of embarrassment, humiliation or danger.

A panic attack itself is very frightening. It is typically a short-lived episode of intense anxiety and fear. Whilst having a panic attack an individual can experience an increased heart rate, be breathless and feel very hot. They may also believe something dangerous is happening to themselves such as they will suffocate or go ‘crazy’. Panic attacks can occur in any anxiety problem described above.

More information

There are lots of resources available online that provide more information and support on anxiety disorders, including:

Young Minds - advice and self-help tips about anxiety

Childline - information on how to cope with anxiety, stress and panic

Anxiety UK - a charity providing support to anyone suffering from anxiety

MindEd - free educational resource that includes training on anxiety issues