Anxiety- what is it, and do I have it?

by Maud Millar on November 21, 2018

This week on the blog we’re talking about anxiety. Its symptoms can be tricky to notice because they often develop slowly over time and, given every single one of us experiences it at some point in our lives, it can be hard to know how much is too much.

Normal anxiety tends to be a short-term thing, which is connected to a stressful situation or event, like an exam. This kind of anxiety is actually super-important from a human-evolution perspective (more on that on Friday! Or you can read a little about the backstory of anxiety here…) but what we’re talking about today is when it becomes longer-term and more vague and scary. The type of anxiety we’re talking about is persistent, not always connected to an obvious challenge, and impacts on your quality of life and day-to-day functioning. This is called anticipatory anxiety and, at any one time, hundreds of thousands of you teenagers in the UK are suffering from it.




Some anxiety stats


Prevalence of anxiety & depression in UK 16-18s

1 in 10 young people experience a mental health disorder (Green et al 2005)

Increase in prevalence of mental health problems at 16-19 (Singleton et al 2001)

Over half of all mental ill health starts by age 14 and 75% develops by age 18 (Murphy and Fonagy 2012)

Anxiety and depression are most common mental health difficulties and these have high co-morbidity (Green et al 2005)

School learning, stress tolerance, confidence, motivation, personal relationships will be adversely affected (Layard 2008)

(stats from Anxiety UK’s page on Young People and Anxiety– they have some great resources there too which might help you out if you’re feeling anxious.)


Basically, the gist of these stats is: don’t feel alone. There are so many people going through the same worries and concerns as you, especially given you’re the most tested generation of all time, and there are so many ways you can reach out and find help if you do think you might be suffering from anxiety or depression (see links at the end of the post for websites).


Do I have anxiety?


For starters, I’m going to put my hand in the air and say I definitely have anticipatory anxiety. It’s not a huge problem, because I have acknowledged I have it, and that allows me to understand what’s going on in my body and deal with it. So the first step is working out if you’re one of us, and if you might benefit from a little guidance on managing your anxiety. This is called acknowledging the problem and it helps tonnes. Once you’ve owned your situation, you have a name for it, and you can start recognising and combating it. So, here we go.


If you can answer YES to most of the questions it’s likely you’re one of us, and suffer from anticipatory anxiety:

  • Do you experience feelings of tension and anxiety in the build up to an event?
  • Do you have images or negative predictions about what may happen at this event?
  • Do you sometimes avoid events or situations because of the increased anxiety they provoke?


Answered yes to most of them? Of course you did. Anticipatory anxiety is such a huge part of the teenage experience, growing up, striking out on your own, getting to know yourself and the people around you properly, and beginning to have an adult life for the first time. Of course you feel anxious about events, specifically exams, mocks, all the things adults put you through at school. Of course you predict negative outcomes; you’re conditioned not to be big-headed, not to be cocky, to always expect the worst. Because that’s how teachers scare you into working. And working. And working. (Believe me, I know. I was one of them…)


And of course you feel anxious about events and situations, either social or academic. Academic is obvious, but you mostly can’t avoid that one. Or the law gets involved. Social situations are infinitely more avoidable, and ngl lots of us do genuinely avoid them because of the weight of anxiety and expectation associated with them. Yeah, parties are fun, but they’re also stressful, and most of the time you’d rather be in the kitchen playing with the dog than trying to convince a crowd of judgmental teenagers that you’re fabulous- when you don’t even really believe it yourself…




So what does anxiety feel like?


Because I’m not an anxiety expert, just a sufferer, I’ve decided to defer to the experts on this one. The bullets listed below are from the Mind website. Mind are a phenomenal charity dedicated to helping people with their mental health, and they really know their stuff. Here’s what they have to say:


Anxiety feels different for everyone. You might have some of the things listed below, and you might also have other experiences or difficulties that aren’t listed here.

Effects on your body

  • a churning feeling in your stomach
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • pins and needles
  • feeling restless or unable to sit still
  • headaches, backache or other aches and pains
  • faster breathing
  • a fast, thumping or irregular heartbeat
  • sweating or hot flushes
  • problems sleeping
  • grinding your teeth, especially at night
  • nausea (feeling sick)

Effects on your mind

  • feeling tense, nervous or unable to relax
  • having a sense of dread, or fearing the worst
  • feeling like the world is speeding up or slowing down
  • feeling like other people can see you’re anxious and are looking at you
  • feeling like you can’t stop worrying, or that bad things will happen if you stop worrying
  • wanting lots of reassurance from other people or worrying that people are angry or upset with you
  • worrying that you’re losing touch with reality
  • rumination – thinking a lot about bad experiences, or thinking over a situation again and again
  • depersonalisation – feeling disconnected from your mind or body, or like you’re watching someone else (this is a type of dissociation)
  • derealisation – feeling disconnected from the world around you, or like the world isn’t real (this is a type of dissociation)
  • worrying a lot about things that might happen in the future – you can read more about these sorts of worries on the Anxiety UK website.


We hope that helped. If you’re looking for more resources on anxiety and how to handle it, the experts can be found here:

  • Mind
  • Anxiety UK
  • The NHS (there are some great links at the bottom of this page too for finding more support)

We wrote a blog earlier this week with some tips on how to handle the symptoms of anxiety, and we’ll be putting out another on Friday about how you can positively harness your anxiety to make it work for you. Also, check out this week’s podcast on anxiety on Apple Podcasts by subscribing to The Space Station, or by searching us on Soundcloud. You can also find our Youtube channel here, where we share revision tips, content from teachers and examiners, and interviews with exciting young professionals on how they handle their stress. Good luck!


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