It is very normal for children and young people to have specific fears throughout their childhood and adolescence. Usually, these fears and worries go away on their own as you get older and expand your experience. Anxiety is the feeling we get as part of the normal human response to danger.
The danger does not have to be real or happening in the present moment, it can be worries or fear thoughts, images or memories; but our body reacts as if the danger is actually happening or is going to happen.
We say we are ‘anxious’ or have ‘anxiety’ when our body automatically goes into the threat/self-protection reaction, which can sometimes be very strong and overwhelming. The body’s threat/self-protection reaction is commonly called the ‘fight/flight/freeze’ reaction, which is driven by the need for survival and safety. This reaction helps us to survive in the face of a real and present danger. It is also activated by fears, images or memories, some of which we are aware of and others are not so clear, we just notice the anxiety in our body.
It is very normal for children and young people to have specific fears throughout their childhood and adolescence. These fears are often related to becoming more aware of the environment and potential dangers, such as heights, the dark or 'monsters under the bed'. Usually, fears and worries go away on their own as children develop and expand their experience. Our body reacts as if the danger is actually happening or is going to happen. It works on a better safe than sorry principle - better to activate fight/flight and be wrong (survive), than to not activate it and be wrong (don't survive).
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Here are two videos on why mindfulness empowers us:
To manage anxiety, the first thing to do is to notice the change in the body and then focus on calming the body’s threat self-protection reaction using these simple strategies:
BREATHE: Breathe in for a slow count of 4 and breathe out for a slow count of 6.
COME to YOUR SENSES: find and focus on:
5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can touch
2 things you can smell
1 slow, deep breath
When you feel calmer CHOOSE: whether the thought/s is helpful or unhelpful:
Worries and anxiety are normal; everyone worries so it’s important to remember you are not alone. Some worries may seem very real and very scary. Tell someone how you are feeling no matter what your worries are, even if you are worried about doing so. There will be someone who will listen and try to support you
Although anxiety feels horrible, remember these feelings will pass and the physical sensations cannot harm you. Remind yourself that you have been anxious before, that those feelings passed, that you coped and were ok. If you need to, breathe in slowly for a count of 4, and out slowly for a count of 6. Use the ‘Come to your senses’ exercise above.
Expand your comfort zone and by discovering what you can do (even when your anxious mind says you can’t)
PAUSE: when you notice sensations of anxiety - PAUSE
ANCHOR: yourself to the present moment and BREATHE to help calm your body
UNDERSTAND: anxiety is normal, and is an old system of helping you survive.
STEP BACK: take a different perspective and ask if your mind is being helpful? Is it taking you towards doing what matters to you, or away from that?
ENGAGE: in taking action and doing what matters, carrying your anxiety with you if you need to.
It is normal for children and young people to experience worry as they develop through childhood and adolescence. The typical worries children and young people experience tend to be situation specific, short term and can be managed by yourself or with the support of parents/ carers. Examples might be:
Under 12s – Parent/carer lead interventions:
Over 12s – young person self-help with support from parent/carer
Young people: 16+
You need some help: These are challenges that some young people experience and may need some support with.
The degree to which a young person believes their thoughts as accurate truth or predictions can make anxiety worse. Episodes of anxiety might be more frequent or prolonged, cause significant distress and have a mild impact on their ability to cope with everyday life such as going to or coping at school, seeing friends or taking part in leisure activities. Examples might be:
As well as the features in Green, the following might also be present:
You might need specialist treatment: These are difficulties that cause a significant impact and a young person may need specialist support.
These anxieties are severe and enduring. These cause significant distress to a young person and significantly disrupt daily life such as school/ college, socialising and even self-care activities (e.g., sleep, bathing, eating).
Despite fully engaging with the strategies outlined in the green and amber stages, you may still be experiencing overwhelming anxiety that is significantly disrupting your daily life.
As well as the features in Green and Amber, the following might also be present:
Now showing: Video 1 of 4
Video description: How to support a young person who may have anxiety
Video description: Struggling with anxiety? Try on a new perspective
Video description: Guided Mindfulness: Passing Clouds - Dr Natalie Roberts
Video description: Guided Mindfulness: Leaves on a Stream