Everyone can feel worried and anxious at times, especially when faced with a stressful situation. However, normally when the situation that triggers our anxiety is over, the anxiety eases. But for some people, this feeling of anxiety can be ongoing, it can feel overwhelming, and can occur on a day-to-day basis.
How does anxiety present itself?
Anxiety can show up in different ways. For example, it could be a general background feeling of unease, or it may feel like a sense of dread that something bad is going to happen. When we are feeling anxious, our bodies, thoughts and behaviours can all be affected and these can manifest in one or more ways:
Quick, shallow breathing
Heart beating very fast
Feeling unable to breathe
Sweating (more than normal)
Panic attacks (where some or many of the symptoms above are felt in a very intense way)
When we feel anxious, we may or may not be aware of some thoughts or feelings which may persist:
Feeling preoccupied with worrying or negative thoughts
Feeling a constant sense of fear or of being overwhelmed
Withdrawing or isolating from normal activities, perhaps trying to avoid any situation that might bring on anxiety
A reluctance to go to school.
Trouble with sleeping
Controlling behaviours (i.e., if we can get rid of anything that might go wrong, we can relax, hence the need to control).
Feeling on edge or nervous
A tendency towards perfectionism
Finding it hard to concentrate
What is happening in our bodies when we feel anxious?
When feelings of anxiety emerge, our brain is interpreting a situation as a threat and is ensuring that the body gets ready to protect itself, by preparing to fight, run away or freeze. We have no control over this response, it is our body’s way of attempting to keep us safe from a perceived danger. This means that our heart will beat faster to pump blood more quickly around the body, our breathing increases, we start to sweat, we might feel shaky as the body prepares itself for action. This is a normal response to a stressful situation, and it usually eases when the triggering situation has died down. However, when this physical response within the body is set off frequently with relatively mild, day to day 'triggers' and the person is left in a more permanent state of anxiety and worry, anxiety then becomes an issue needing attention.
How to help your child if they are feeling anxious
There are ways you can help your child if they are showing some of the signs of anxiety listed above. Tell them you understand how they are feeling and would like to help and some of our suggested techniques:
Breath slowly together
Be a reassuring, calming presence, reminding them that you are here for them
Reassure them that they will be okay
Offer them physical reassurance if they want, for example a cuddle, hold hands, or a back rub.
Remind them that this will pass and that they are safe.
Encourage your child to think of a safe place and imagine they are there right now.
Help your child to engage their senses, think with them about what they can see, hear, touch, smell and taste. This will help them connect with their body and feel more grounded.
Strategies to help your child manage their anxiety
Encourage your child to try activities that help them to relax, for example, yoga, mindfulness or meditation
Exercise can reduce the symptoms of anxiety, so perhaps encourage your child to take regular exercise
Make a worry box, where your child can write down or draw their worries throughout the day. If they would like to, they could share these worries with you at an agreed time
Spend quality time together and give them opportunities to talk about their feelings
When your child is more relaxed, talk with them about their anxiety, making sure to empathise and validate their experiences
Think with them about whether there is anything that could be changed to make things easier for them
Help your child become aware of the signs they are feeling anxious, (see the signs and symptoms shown above). If your child is aware of what happens in their body when anxious, they can then try to use some of their strategies to try to help bring their system back into a calmer, more regulated state.
Be mindful of your own levels of anxiety; children and young people will be affected by the adults around them and their state of mind. If you do feel that you are anxious, try to take time to relax and calm yourself.
If you are a young person, there are things you can do to manage your feelings of anxiety
Take regular physical exercise
Talk to someone you can trust
Find activities that you enjoy doing
Engage in yoga, meditation or mindfulness
Know that you are not alone but remember to reach out to talk to someone you can trust and share how you are feeling
Make sure you make time for yourself and things you enjoy doing
Take some slow, deep breaths to steady your heart-rate
Make a soothing box containing things that help to calm you, which is ready for you to grab in an anxious moment. It could include a favourite scented candle, a favourite snack, calming quotes written down that you can read, such as ‘I will be okay’ or ‘I can get through this’. You could include something soft to stroke and hold, like a soft piece of fabric or a teddy. You could even put a special blanket in your box to use to cuddle yourself up in; this will help you to feel safe and contained.
If you feel that your child needs more support to help them with their anxiety, please visit our page Support for Families This explains how we offer 1:1 counselling sessions for children and young people and will signpost you to someone who can help.
Connecting with your child, giving them an opportunity to talk and be listened to, is important for their sense of wellbeing and can help them voice their worries or anxieties. We have created the following activities which will help you talk and listen with your child whilst enjoying each other’s company and having fun together.
This Feelings Scavenger Hunt is designed to help you and your child spend time together. It encourages your child to share their thoughts and is an important way of sharing memories as they gather various things from around the house.
The Dice Game is a simple way to chat about feelings, hopes and dreams.
Have fun with the Lego Challenge game - great for children who enjoy construction activities, this is a good project to come back to.
These Fortune Tellers are always popular with children. The first one will help your child with strategies to calm themselves if they are feeling anxious or worried while the second helps your child build their self-confidence.
Our Conversation Cards can be used to start conversations to take your child's mind off a worry or re-focus after an anxious moment.
These further activities allow you to talk to your child about things that are worrying them: Bottled Up Feelings