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An anxiety disorder is when worry or fear get out of control and start interfering with everyday life. Anxiety disorders are common amongst young people, affecting 1 in 5 young women and 1 in 10 young men aged 16-25 years. Understanding more about anxiety will help you determine if it is an issue for your child and take steps to help them manage it.

This can help if you:

  • want to understand more about anxiety
  • want to know what causes anxiety
  • want to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of anxiety
  • want to know when to take action against anxiety.

What is anxiety?

Everyone gets anxious at times – it’s a normal part of life. However when someone becomes so worried or afraid of something, or obsessed about something happening in a certain way, that it affects their everyday life and causes them problems, there may be an underlying anxiety disorder at play. Anxiety is common, with around 15% of young people having an anxiety disorder and most experiencing their first symptoms before the age of 15.

Types of anxiety disorders

 There are many different types of anxiety disorders. The most common are summarised below:

  • Generalised anxiety disorder: Anxiety or worry that isn’t about one specific thing, but can be about many everyday situations
  • Social anxiety: Fear of being in public situations where people might judge you
  • Panic disorder: repeated panic attacks that make you feel fear or terror, or like you’re having a heart attack.
  • Agoraphobia: Fear of being in a situation from which escape might be difficult.
  • Specific phobia: Severe or intense fear of a specific situation or object.
  • Separation anxiety disorder: Extreme fear of being separated from a loved one or home.

What are the risk factors for anxiety?

There are a number of factors that have been shown to increase the likelihood of someone experiencing an anxiety disorder. These include:

  • genetics - a family history of anxiety
  • personality factors, such as your child being highly sensitive
  • chronic illnesses, like asthma and diabetes
  • an ongoing stressful event
  • trauma such as grief or abuse
  • substance misuse.

How can I recognize the symptoms of anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety can look different for each type of disorder. However, common signs and symptoms to look out for in your child are:

  • Extreme fear or worry about specific situations, or everyday life
  • Saying their mind is racing and they can’t think straight
  • Inability to concentrate or poor memory
  • Avoiding new and difficult situations
  • Avoiding social situations, being socially isolated or extremely shy
  • Always being on edge or nervous
  • Being constantly tired and unable to sleep.

Physical symptoms that may accompany anxiety include:

  • Chest pain, rapid heartbeats and sweating
  • Shallow breathing and shortness of breath
  • Restlessness and shaking
  • Dry mouth, stomach pains, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Insomnia.

When to take action

If your child experiences ongoing symptoms which can’t be easily attributed to an obvious cause, or are preventing your child from performing everyday tasks without feeling anxious, then it’s possible they have an anxiety disorder. If the symptoms go on for more than two weeks, it’s a good idea to talk to your child and to seek professional help.

There are also things that you can do to help your child by helping them become aware of how their anxiety affects them, and giving them steps that they can take to keep their anxiety under control.

Find things to try to help your child with anxiety

Page last review by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on