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  • Writer's pictureAlejandra Arellano

Anxiety 101

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, children and adolescents around the world have experienced disruptions to their daily lives. Depression and anxiety were already two of the most common mental health problematics during adolescence and after the pandemic, their prevalence appears to have increased considerably (1).


What is anxiety?


Let’s go back millions of years ago and imagine our primate ancestors, living in caves and defending themselves from very big predators. When hearing or seeing a sign of danger, their bodies would elicit reactions known as fight-or-flight responses such as a speeding of the heart rate, increased blood flow to the muscles, hyperventilation. Thus, preparing them for a reaction that would -hopefully- save them from the predators. Nowadays, we no longer face danger from predators but can still be confronted with fight-or-flight signals triggered by events where we could be at risk of being harmed.

This is how anxiety is part of our bodies’ alarm system. Anxiety is a natural human emotion that elicits an automatic response; there is no need to initiate it, rather it is activated immediately when a threat is perceived (2). Therefore, anxiety is there to protect us, however, what happens when it starts taking too much of our headspace?


What can too much anxiety look like?


Children, adolescents, and adults can feel too much anxiety at times. During each developmental stage, a person has different worries and vulnerabilities and therefore, things that can make them feel anxious.


According to Miller (2021), younger children are likely to be anxious about external situations; the dark, monsters or something that might happen to mum and dad. Meanwhile, teenagers are prone to feel anxious about themselves; their school and their social life, how they are being perceived by others and the body changes they might be experiencing.


Anxiety can look very different amongst people; some might withdraw while others might lash out. Teenagers often feel the need to hide their feelings and thoughts; adolescence has been associated with an increase in the internalization of symptoms, this is when adolescents keep their feelings inside and avoid talking about them (4).

However, some common symptoms for anxiety can include the following (5):

- Irritability

- Recurring fears and worries about routine parts of everyday life

- Finding it difficult to concentrate

- Trouble sleeping

- Heart beating very fast

- Feeling tired or grumpy

- Sweating more than usual

- Feeling out of control


Although it is expected for teenagers to feel anxious about their performance in exams, going to a party or meeting new friends, if this anxiety is constant and seems to be affecting their daily life then it is important for them to be able to talk to someone else and ask for help.


If you think you might be suffering from anxiety then it's important you talk to your GP, who can recommend different options for treatment.

 

References.

(1) Racine, N., McArthur, B. A., Cooke, J. E., Eirich, R., Zhu, J., & Madigan, S. (2021). Global prevalence of depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and adolescents during COVID-19: a meta-analysis. JAMA pediatrics, 175(11), 1142-1150

(2) Chand, S. P., & Marwaha, R. (2022). Anxiety. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.

(3) Miller, C. (2021, October 11). How anxiety affects teenagers. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/signs-of-anxiety-in-teenagers/

(4) Theurel, A., & Gentaz, E. (2018). The regulation of emotions in adolescents: Age differences and emotion-specific patterns. PloS one, 13(6), e0195501. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0195501

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