Anxiety in Young People – The facts & the signs

The prevalence of anxiety has risen over recent years and is now the most common mental health condition. On average, it affects one in fourteen young Australians aged 4-17 years old each year. (Reference)

Of these 278,000 young people, the vast majority of them don’t seek help. Knowing the signs and how to interact with those who may have anxiety can assist in them managing their condition.

Day to day life stress can be beneficial and it often passes, yet anxiety is more than feeling stressed, it’s a serious condition that can make day to day life difficult.

The symptoms of anxiety can look different for everybody. However, common signs and symptoms to look out for in young people 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

Anxiety can also present physical symptoms:

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

Treatment can come in many forms, some popular ones include:

Breathing exercises – breath deeply into the lungs through the nose and exhale out the mouth, focus on something while you breath or perform a mental body scan until you feel calm.

Going for a walk or doing light exercise – this can help to distract the mind and to manage the physical symptoms of anxiety and stress.

Writing down worries – setting aside a designated time to come back to them. This technique is used in cognitive behavioural therapy and can help make sure that excessive worrying doesn’t take over someone’s life. ReachOut has developed an app called Worry Time to guide a young person through the process. (Lawrence et al. 2015)

Meditation and mindfulness – these tools teach someone to focus on the present, taking your mind away from worrying about things in the past or the future. Smiling Mind is an app designed to teach young people mindfulness meditation, a technique which has been shown to help with anxiety.

Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven De Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J, Zubrick SR. (2015). The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents. Report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.