What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal feeling we experience when we are faced with stress, feel threatened or sense danger.  When you become anxious you may feel uncomfortable, upset and tense. Your heart may start beating rapidly, you may start to sweat or just find you may not be able to cope alone and may need support from someone else.

We may feel anxious when doing tests, making new friends, going for a job interview, experiencing loss, when making important decisions or confronting any significant situation where we are uncertain how to respond.

Feeling anxious in these situations is normal and you will notice these feelings pass when the situation or event is over.  However, it is important to understand the difference between feeling anxious and the more serious symptoms of an anxiety disorder.  An anxiety disorder can be identified when these feelings persist for too long, become more intense and get to the point where they stop you from doing things, or you overreact to simple situations like being around others.

What causes anxiety disorder?

There’s no one cause of anxiety disorder. A number of different factors can contribute to it, including:

  • ongoing stressful events like family problems, work or study-related stress, loss of a loved one, trauma, or abuse
  • personality factors like perfectionism (the need to be perfect, for others to be perfect, or for the world to be perfect), lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, the need to control everything
  • health problems and illness
  • biological factors like genetics.

Young people who have the added responsibility of caring for others are more likely to develop anxiety.[i] Young carers often try to balance this responsibility with work and study, often putting their own needs last. It’s also common for them to feel anxious about their loved one’s condition, or anxious about being treated differently by their peers and friends.

On top of these responsibilities, young people have the usual stresses around managing friendships, growing up, and making decisions about study and career.

[i] Scottish Government, Health and Social Care, Young carers: Review of research and data, https://www.gov.scot/publications/young-carers-review-research-data/pages/4/

What are the symptoms of anxiety disorder

Symptoms of anxiety disorder aren’t always obvious and they can come on quite quickly, like a panic attack, or develop slowly over time. When it does take time to develop it can make it hard to know if you need to seek help. Remember, it’s normal to feel anxious about certain things such as the health of a loved one, keeping up with your studies, and relationships. However, if you’ve been feeling overly anxious for a while and it starts interfering with your life, or you can relate to any of the symptoms below, you may need some help.

  • constantly thinking that something bad is about to happen
  • constantly worrying you’re doing things wrong, or dwelling on your mistakes
  • worries that seem out of proportion
  • always needing to ask questions and seek reassurance
  • trying to be perfect
  • worrying about changes in routine, circumstances, or unfamiliar places
  • having a dry mouth or trouble swallowing
  • nightmares and sleep disturbances
  • feeling restless, irritable and have trouble concentrating
  • finding it hard to relax
  • avoiding friends, family or social events
  • feeling tense or having headaches
  • rapid heart rate and breathing
  • sweating or trembling in some situations
  • nausea or diarrhoea.

This example might help make things clearer by putting these symptoms into perspective:

Liam is an 18-year old student who is in his final year of high school. He also helps care for his dad, who was paralysed after having a motor vehicle accident. Liam has a younger brother who is in Year 9, and his mother works full-time to support the family.

 Like most of his friends, Liam is finding Year 12 very demanding. However, his responsibilities to help look after his dad makes his life a lot more stressful. He often worries about having enough time to fit in his studies, and worries about passing Year 12 and getting into university next year.

 Every day at school, Liam feels tense. He usually has a headache and has trouble concentrating. He often thinks about his dad and wonders if he’s okay during the day, even though he has another carer coming to the house. Liam also worries about his mother driving to and from work each day and often pictures what his life would be like if she had an accident and ended up like his dad. This leads him to worry about how he would take care of both his parents and his younger brother. Because Liam spends a lot of time worrying and thinking about his family, he feels he misses things in class so constantly checks in with his teachers about whether he is on track. When his teachers point out his errors on his assessments, he puts himself down for making mistakes and tells himself that he’ll never get into university by getting things wrong. Sometimes during the day, for no apparent reason, Liam will feel breathless and notice that his heart is racing.

In the example above, Liam has some very normal reactions to his life:

  • feeling stressed about studying year 12
  • worrying whether he has enough time to fit in all his homework
  • worrying about getting into university
  • thinking about his dad during the day, wondering if he’s okay.

However, Liam also shows some symptoms of anxiety disorder:

  • excessively worrying about his mother driving to and from work
  • thinking about his mother having an accident like his father
  • picturing how he would take care of both parents and his younger brother
  • having trouble concentrating in class
  • feeling tense and having a headache on most days
  • constantly checking with his teachers about his progress
  • getting angry with himself for not getting everything perfect
  • feeling breathless and having a racing heart for no reason.

What can you do to feel better?

Anxiety is one of the most treatable of all health conditions. Some things that you can do for yourself that may help, include:

  • talking to someone about how you feel — the Check-in App allows you to do this online
  • writing down your thoughts and feelings; keeping a diary about your anxiety can help you identify things that may trigger it
  • reading stories of other young carers to know you’re not alone
  • meditation and relaxation (e.g. Calm; Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness; Smiling Mind)
  • learning slow breathing techniques to use when you become anxious
  • facing up to small things that make you anxious, as this will help you learn that what you fear isn’t likely to happen, and if it does, you can cope
  • staying in the present moment
  • talking kindly to yourself
  • developing a good sleep routine
  • spending time with family and friends
  • eating healthy food
  • getting regular exercise.

Sometimes though, these strategies are not enough. If these don’t help, speak to someone about how you’re feeling. It could be a teacher, support worker or a counsellor. You may need to visit your doctor, who can work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you feel better. This might involve speaking to a mental health professional and/or being prescribed medication.

How common is anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health condition in Australia. In any 12-month period, over 2 million Australians experience it.[i] Over a 12-month period, 6.6% of young people aged between 4 and 17 years, experience an anxiety disorder.[ii] The most common is social anxiety disorder and generalised anxiety disorder in young people. Separation anxiety disorder is most common in children.

[i] Beyond Blue, Anxiety, https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/anxiety

[ii] Spence, S. H., Zubrick, S. R., & Lawrence, D. (2018). A profile of social, separation and generalized anxiety disorders in an Australian nationally representative sample of children and adolescents: Prevalence, comorbidity and correlates. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52(5), 446–460. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0004867417741981#articleCitationDownloadContainer

Where to go for help?

Whether you think your anxiety is mild or severe, it’s important to tell someone how you feel, especially if you’re worrying about whether what you’re feeling is normal. There are a lot of people who can help you.

To speak to someone, you can call:

Kids Help Line — 1800 55 1800

Headspace — 1800 650 890

Lifeline — 13 11 14. You can also ask for help via text message on 0477 13 11 14

You can find more information about anxiety and self-help ideas at:



Youth Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Black Dog Institute

Children of Parents with a Mental Illness

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