Young women's version of this guide

Negative human emotions, facial expressions, reaction attitude. Closeup stressed man holding head with hands isolated

Everyone experiences anxiety at different times in their lives. For instance, you may feel anxious before giving a class presentation or before a big test. Sometimes anxiety is a normal experience. In small amounts anxiety can help prepare you for challenging events, but intense anxiety or anxiety that lasts a long time can become overwhelming and prevent you from doing all the things you need to get done.

What is an anxiety disorder?

An anxiety disorder is when your anxiety becomes so great that you feel very scared or uneasy in situations that are not dangerous. Increased anxiety can cause you to avoid certain activities or perform poorly at school.  It can even make you feel physically sick. If these feelings happen a lot and have lasted for weeks or months, you may have an anxiety disorder.

If you notice any of the symptoms you should to talk about them with your healthcare provider (HCP). They will check you for possible medical causes of your symptoms, such as a problem with your thyroid. If your symptoms don’t have a medical cause, your HCP may tell you that you are experiencing anxiety and make some suggestions for getting help.

What are some of the symptoms I may feel?

  • Trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night
  • Restlessness or feeling on-edge most of the time
  • Headaches
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Stomach aches or feeling like you might throw up
  • Irritability or crankiness
  • Sweating a lot, fast heartbeat, tingling in hands, feeling lightheaded
  • Trouble letting go of a worry or thought
  • Avoiding or staying away from everyday things because they make you nervous

Is there more than one kind of anxiety disorder?

Anxiety is different for each person. What makes you anxious might be different from what makes your friend or someone else anxious. There are different types of anxiety disorders. For example, some people have phobias. A phobia (fo-bee-ah) is a VERY strong fear of something. Someone who has a phobia often becomes overly anxious about certain things, such as spiders, or being in crowded places because they feel like they are in a lot of danger.  Having a phobia causes them to react strongly even though the chance of danger is small. Another kind of anxiety is called social anxiety where some people are very fearful of speaking to or being around other people. They feel that others would judge them and think badly of them.

What causes an anxiety disorder?

There is a lot of research being done on which parts of the brain are affected by anxiety but there is no clear cause for anxiety disorders. As with many mental health conditions the cause is usually a mixture of genetics (family history) and environment (life events). This means that anxiety often runs in families but the things that happen in our life shape us too.

What should I do if I have a lot of anxiety?

If you are concerned that you have a lot of anxiety, you should know that you are not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in the U.S., affecting nearly 20% of people. The best thing you can do is to talk to someone about it. Bring it up with your parent(s)/guardian, teacher, guidance counselor, coach or other trusted adult, and be sure to talk to your  healthcare provider. They can help you find a way to cope. If at any time you feel overwhelmed or unsafe, reach out to a trusted adult or dial 911. You are never alone. There are people to help and things will get better.

How is an anxiety disorder treated?

Anxiety can be treated in many ways. It’s good to talk about treatment with your healthcare provider to figure out what can help you. Some people with high levels of anxiety or moments of anxiety are able to cope well by practicing self-care. Self-care means “taking care of YOU.” Doing activities you enjoy will help you to relax and improve your mood. Some ideas are to take a walk, listen to peaceful music, exercise, or practice yoga. There are deep breathing and relaxation exercises you can learn that can be comforting in times of stress. Many people find it helpful to talk to someone about their experiences and learn new strategies to decrease anxiety- for example meeting with a counselor or therapist one-on-one or joining a support group with people your age. In some circumstances medications are helpful too; talk to your health care provider to get advice on medications.

If you suffer with symptoms of anxiety, you are not alone. The good news is there’s treatment and strategies that you can learn to manage the feelings. All you have to do is reach out to a trusted adult and make an appointment with your primary care provider.