What is anxiety?

Feeling worried and anxious is a completely normal part of life and very common.

But if anxiety starts to get on top of you, then it can affect your mental health.

You’d expect to get nervous or anxious before an exam or if you’re moving school or if something a bit out of the ordinary happens that you may be fearful of.

Anxiety is a natural part of the ‘fight or flight’ reaction.


Sometimes anxiety just won’t go away, and this is when problems start.

You might be worrying about everyday stuff, things which might never happen or which seem irrational, embarrassing or difficult to talk about.

For example, you might be worried about saying something silly or making a fool of yourself or having a physical reaction that you can’t control.


When you’re anxious your body reacts. You may have:

  • overwhelming fear
  • nervousness
  • trembles or shakes
  • tummy aches
  • a racing heart
  • a tight chest
  • panic attacks
  • problems with sleeping
  • weight loss
  • breathing difficulties
  • difficulties concentrating
  • a short temper

There are plenty of other symptoms too.

When does it happen?

Anxiety happens for different reasons and in lots of situations.

It can feel random, but you may also spot themes. So going to a party or being in a crowded place may make you feel super anxious.

You might even get anxious just thinking about social situations and then start avoiding them altogether.

What you can do

There are things you can do to help with these types of thoughts or feelings such as:

  • Speaking to a trusted person about how you are feeling; this could be family, friends, doctor, school nurse or counsellor
  • Breathing exercises to help with slowing down your heart rate when feeling anxious. Try laying or sitting in a quiet distraction free room, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing, try taking slow breaths, breathing in for a count of four and breathing out to the count of four.
  • Distracting yourself e.g. reading, exercise or listening to music

You can also find resources on our ‘Understanding and coping with anxiety’ page

Further resources – Self help guide for anxiety

Young Minds – A guide for young people – Anxiety


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Page last reviewed: 20 December, 2023