What is Anxiety?

Anxiety. This is a difficult topic – to write about, to read about, but especially to experience. What makes it difficult is that not everyone understands it. Some people do not acknowledge how hard it can be. Some people do not accept it is hard for others. Some people do not accept that they have it. A lot of people, do not know what to do when they have it.

I was nervous about writing an article about anxiety this week. I didn’t want to write about it and portray it negatively. Worse, I didn’t want to portray it inaccurately. To help me, I approached some of my friends who I knew suffered with anxiety when we were at school. What I came to learn was that not knowing enough about anxiety is the exact reason I should write about it, I should read about it, I should learn from others experiences.

I began by asking my friends how anxiety affected them at school. It turns out this question was much too broad – one answered: “It affected everything.” This is the truth of anxiety, it affects you in numerous and wide-ranging ways. It doesn’t only exist in the unimportant parts of your life. You can’t simply turn it off when you are doing something imperative. It is there all the time, affecting you all the time.

Everyone has minor feelings of anxiety at some point in their life, whether it’s a job interview, meeting a friend’s family for the first time, or if you’re about to start your first day at a new school. Some stress is helpful – it helps us react to worries or potential threats, by quickening our reflexes and focusing our attention, and it usually settles once the stressful situation has passed. Anxiety is when those feelings don’t go away, they’re extreme for the situation, and you can’t seem to control them.

I asked my friends if they could describe some of the feelings and symptoms that came with their anxiety as I know everyone can be different. These ranged from constant feelings of intense worry, overthinking, sore stomachs, the feeling of being choked, crying regularly and over agonising over daily things. Anxiety can also cause physical symptoms like pain, a pounding heart or stomach cramps. These feelings are obviously intense. Unfortunately, they can last for weeks, months or can keep going up and down over many years. This can negatively affect your thoughts behaviour and general health, leaving you feeling distressed and not able to enjoy your life as much as you could.

So this is where we come in. Whether we have anxiety ourselves, we have friends who do, or even if we aren’t sure if we know anyone who does – it is important to learn what to do to help. Even though I say this, it is important to understand we cannot fix the situation immediately, we can only be supportive and understanding.

If you are struggling with anxiety, the number one thing you can do is to talk about it. If you want to support someone with anxiety, let them understand you are there for them to talk whenever they need it. Bottling it up is the most detrimental thing to do. If you feel the need to cry, cry together. If you feel the need to scream, scream together. If you feel the need to meditate, meditate together. If you feel the need to chat, chat together.

This doesn’t have to be with a friend. Telling your parents is often the most helpful thing you can do. Most schools also have a guidance counsellor or can help you find one if they do not. Parents and counsellors can be awesome options to open up to, but whatever suits you is the best option. That’s the thing about dealing with anxiety – it is different for everyone. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of or scared of. It is something you can deal with. What I have learnt is the best place to start is by opening up.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1. How would you describe anxiety?

2. How do you think anxiety affects school students? Do you think there are particular parts about school that are harder for students with anxiety?

3. Are there different types of anxiety? What do these include?

Practical Thinking Questions:

1. What is the best thing you can do to help a friend with anxiety? What is the best think you can do to help someone you don’t know very well with anxiety?

2. Do some research about the effect of anxiety on school students – can this affect them later in life?

3. Make sure your friends are okay. Make sure you are okay. J

If there is no one in your life you feel comfortable opening up to, there are plenty of Helplines below that are a good place to begin. It is common for people who have anxiety to also feel depressed. The symptoms of anxiety and depression can overlap. If you feel the need, you might want to take a look at the depression information too.

Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202 (to talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling or to ask any questions)

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, 12noon–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available from 3pm–10pm 7 days a week, including all public holidays.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

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