Generalized Anxiety Disorder


Generalized Anxiety Disorder

A closer look at what it is, how it affects you, and how to manage the symptoms


What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by an uncontrollable and unrealistic worry about everyday situations such as school, work, relationships or health. For a diagnosis of GAD, this worrying has to occur for a majority of days and for at least six months.

This worry is uncontrollable and can be accompanied by at least three additional symptoms, such as:

  • Feeling restless

  • Getting tired easily

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling cranky

  • Tense muscles

  • Disturbed sleep

You might find that you’re not able to enjoy the things you normally would because GAD may be affecting aspects of your life. In many situations, it is possible that you might feel more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs as a way to escape or numb overwhelming feelings. However, this doesn’t mean that misusing alcohol and drugs should be a way to cope or deal with GAD.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

GAD can affect both your physical health and your mental health (behavior and feelings). Symptoms can depend on a number of factors, and may pass quickly or may stay for a long period of time. If you or a friend has some or many of these symptoms, it may be worth talking to a doctor or mental health professional about ways to treat GAD.

Some common ways that GAD might affect your mental health include:

Mood symptoms

  • Feeling worried or scared

  • Being cranky or being in a constant bad mood

  • Feeling uneasy and on edge

Cognitive symptoms

  • Worried or a constant feeling that something bad is about to happen

  • Always wanting to be very well-behaved, e.g. never getting into trouble at school or with friends (though not necessarily at home)

  • Being pessimistic and easily able to identify what may go wrong in any given situation

Behavior symptoms

  • Often asking many unnecessary questions and requiring constant reassurance

  • Being a loner, or hanging out with a small group of people (who are often younger or older)

  • Being a perfectionist, taking a long time to complete homework because you try to get it absolutely correct

  • Being argumentative (but not usually aggressive), especially if trying to avoid a feared situation

  • Not answering questions and rarely volunteering comments or information at school or college

  • Getting upset when a mistake is made or if there is a change of routine, e.g. field day, substitute teacher, unexpected visitors, or a trip to an unfamiliar place

Physical symptoms

  • Dry mouth and/or difficulty swallowing

  • Nightmares

  • Difficulty getting to and staying asleep

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Muscle tension and headaches

  • Rapid heart rate and breathing

  • Sweating

  • Trembling

  • Diarrhea

  • Flare-up of another health problem or illness (e.g. dermatitis, asthma)

  • Sexual problems, such as not having any sexual feelings or being overly interested in sex

What causes GAD?

The causes of GAD are not fully known. However, it is thought that GAD can be part of your genetic and chemical make-up, as well as part of your personality. There are many things that might possibly trigger GAD such as your environment, stressful situations, and/or problems within family or trauma.

Some of the causes of GAD might be:

  • Genetics or a history of anxiety within your family

  • Biochemical imbalance of the chemicals in the brain (that regulate feelings and physical reactions) can alter your thoughts, emotions or behavior which can result in anxiety

  • A stressful event or chain of events such as a family break-up, physical abuse, ongoing bullying at school, sexual abuse, a death, a break up, and/or family conflict

  • Personality, certain personality types are more at risk of anxiety than others


There are a number of different treatments (both physical and mental) for GAD. Here are some examples:

Psychological treatment provides you with either an alternative to medication or medication that works alongside it. This is provided by a mental health professional, who could be a counselor, psychiatrist, or psychologist, whom you can find through your local doctor, your local community health center, or through your school or college. Some local doctors and other allied health staff also do counseling.

There are a number of psychological treatments or therapies used for anxiety, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which looks at your thoughts and behaviors, and provides ways of changing any negative thought patterns.

Self-help groups are also available, which can help you feel better by knowing and talking to others who are in the same situation.

Medication is a type of physical treatment that may be helpful in managing an anxiety disorder. There are several different types of medications that are prescribed by doctors or psychiatrists. For example:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and antidepressants increase the amount of serotonin in the brain and can only be used on a short-term basis.

  • Tranquilizers can alleviate some of the physiological symptoms of anxiety, but can make you feel sleepy and lacking in energy.

Some medications are better suited to adults than younger people. Like most medications, there can be side effects. However, medication can be an effective and immediate treatment for anxiety, and has been found to be helpful as a short term treatment for anxiety. It is best to ask your doctor about what options you have, how the medication will affect you, and how to take the medication safely.

Self-help and alternative therapies

Along with seeking treatment to manage your anxiety disorder, there are a number of things you can do that may help when you’re feeling anxious. Alternative therapies can be good as a supplement to medication and/or therapy. Some of these include:

Breathing exercises. When you’re anxious, your breathing can be quick and shallow, which reduces the amount of oxygen going to your organs. Learning how to breathe efficiently can help reduce some of the physiological symptoms of anxiety. Have a look at the Relaxation article for more information on breathing techniques.

Eating well and being active. Even though you might not feel like it, exercising and eating well can help when you are feeling down. Biological factors and social factors influence how you feel, how you react to, and how you think about yourself and other things.

Exercise helps stimulate hormones, such as endorphins, which helps improve your mood and outlook on life. If you haven’t done a lot of exercise before, it might be a good idea to start out doing something small a couple of times each week, such as a 15-minute walk or swimming laps in a pool.

Get outside. Evidence shows that when you have some sort of contact with nature—like pets, plants, gardens or parks—your mood improves and you feel less stressed. Even just going for a walk in the park may help.

Write down your feelings. Writing down your feelings or keeping a journal can be a great way to understand your emotions. It can also help you think about alternative solutions to problems.

Take time out to relax. It’s a good idea to try and take a bit of each day to do something you enjoy. When you are feeling down, it may be hard to be social or motivate yourself to be active. It might help to make a list of all the things you enjoy doing and then plan to do something from this list each day.

Support groups. Along with family and friends, support groups can be a place to share experiences and inspiration with others going through similar times. Talk to your doctor or local community health center for details on support groups in your area. Also, if you are a college student inquire at your campus counseling center to see what kind of support groups the center might be sponsoring. You can also find local support groups online through the Anxiety Disorders Association of America.

Talking to someone. Although it may seem hard, sharing how you feel can help you get through the hard times. This might be a trusted adult, your school counselor, or another mental health professional. If it’s your first time seeing a mental health professional, check out our article here to help you prepare for your first visit.

If you are having difficulty speaking about what you’re going through, you might start with sentences such as “Right now, I’m feeling…”, “I think it started when…”, “I’ve been feeling this for…”, “My sleep has been…”, “Lately school/work/college has been...”

Call a crisis line. If you’re having difficulty talking to people you know or you’d like to talk to someone outside of your situation, Lines for Life has a Suicide LifeLine that can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, as well as a YouthLine at 1-877-968-8491. They are staffed by highly trained volunteers that can offer support and assistance 24/7/365, over the phone, text or through an online chat. If you’d like more resources, check out our crisis helpline directory.

Set small goals. Sometimes people set goals that are almost unachievable and then feel even worse when they can’t reach them. Try to set goals that are attainable for you, even if it’s on a day-by-day, or hour-by-hour basis. And remember to reward yourself, too.

Reduce stress. It might be a good idea to try and reduce the level of stress you’re feeling. You might want to check out the Stress article for some ideas on how to manage stress.

Go easy on drugs and alcohol. Try not to use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to feel better. The feeling you get from drugs and alcohol is usually temporary, and the after effects often make problems worse.

Give it time: Changes in behavior don’t happen overnight and it might take some time before all GAD symptoms go away. It’s a matter of taking baby steps, and getting the right support to get through this.

Getting help to manage GAD

There are a number of different treatments for GAD. A doctor, counselor, psychologist or other mental health professional can talk to you about your symptoms, and discuss alternative ways of treating and coping with them.

Try to remember that managing GAD may take time, and there may be good days and not so good day, but dealing with GAD is possible. You’ve got this!

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for


Being Shy



A closer look at what shyness is, why it happens, and how to conquer life without letting shyness get in the way


What is shyness?

Shyness is usually associated with being quiet, insecure, and/or socially anxious. Being shy is not necessarily bad. We can all feel shy from time to time, so it’s alright to feel a little uncomfortable in new situations and with new people.

There are ways to overcome these challenges, so you can still be shy and achieve your goals.

What causes shyness?

Some people are born more shy than others. Sometimes you can grow out of shyness and sometimes it can stay with you. Shyness is generally associated with new situations and can often pass; it can also attribute to the people you hang out with. Examples of times when you might feel shy are on your first day of school or starting a new job where you don’t know anyone. Over time you might start to make friends and your shyness may start to go away as you become more comfortable and confident in your new situation or with new people.

Here are some situations where you might find yourself being more shy than others:

  • Public speaking, e.g. class presentations

  • Speaking to someone you think is attractive

  • Meeting new people

  • Going to a new place

  • Eating and drinking in public

  • Exams

  • Performing

  • Talking to someone important, e.g. your boss or principal

  • Job interviews

Symptoms of shyness

How you might behave:

  • Quietly and passively

  • Avoiding eye contact

  • Avoiding social situations

  • Speaking quietly

  • Nervous behaviors, such as touching your hair or face a lot

What you might feel physically:

  • Fast heart beat

  • Dry mouth

  • Shaking

  • Sweating

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Butterflies in your stomach or feeling sick

  • Feeling like the situation is unreal or you are removed

  • Fear of losing control, going crazy, or having a heart attack

What you might think:

  • Negative thoughts about yourself, the situation, and others

  • Wanting to be perfect to avoid judgment

  • Blaming and beating yourself up, particularly after a social situation

  • Believing yourself to be weaker than others

  • Thinking “I don’t fit in” or “I’m unattractive”

What you might be feeling:

  • Embarrassed

  • Self-consciousness

  • Silly

  • Low self-esteem

  • Sad

  • Lonely

  • Depressed

  • Anxious/ worried

Blushing and sweating

When you’re feeling shy or embarrassed in a social situation or in any of the situations mentioned above, you might find yourself blushing or sweating more than usual. It’s also possible to blush for no apparent reason. In embarrassing or stressful situations, the body’s fight or flight response is activated. This releases extra adrenaline into the bloodstream causing more blood to rush to your face, neck and ears. Anxiety and nervousness can make you sweat more on you face or under your arms.

These physical displays of embarrassment, shyness and/or nervousness are often more noticeable to you than to others. You may also think that people are going to judge you or think that you are weak or dishonest by blushing or sweating. However, others often just see you as being shy or nervous.

Sometimes breathing can help to reduce the symptoms of blushing. See the fact sheet on Relaxation for information on breathing techniques.

What can you do if you are feeling shy?

It can be really useful to talk to someone if you feel that your shyness is keeping you from doing things that you want to do. You may want to consider talking to your family, friends or counselor about it. Here are some tips that can help you start overcoming your shyness:

Prepare a topic for conversation. Thinking about what you might talk about with new people can really help the conversation and any awkward feelings. It helps to pick a topic that you know a lot about and feel confident about.

Smile and be friendly. You are more likely to be friendly to someone who smiles at you, so try it yourself. Opening yourself up to people can make them feel more comfortable and more likely to be friendly in response.

Practice social skills. Start practicing your social skills one at a time. Try smiling at someone or saying ‘hi’, and keep practicing at home until you feel confident to try it out in a social situation. Once you feel comfortable with that, you can move onto something else—like trying to hold eye contact during a conversation.

Worse case scenarios. It may help to run through some of the worst things that could happen, so you can learn how to handle stumbling over your words when giving a class presentation or dropping your drink at a party. Thinking about some of the worst scenarios that you could come across may help you realize that they might not be as bad as you initially thought and would also prepare you for these situations if they were to happen. In case something embarrassing does happen, humor is a great way to release the awkward energy. Instead of taking something seriously, allow it to happen and laugh about it.

“I’m shy”. Letting other people know that you are shy can sometimes make the situation more comfortable. People are generally understanding, caring and patient, so they will help support you.

Reward yourself. It’s extremely helpful to tell yourself that you did really well after you’ve been in an uncomfortable situation. It is also important to remember that sometimes things can go wrong and that you should look at the things that did go well, like the fact that you tried.

Is shyness affecting my social life?

Sometimes being shy can impact on your life. You might find that you avoid social situations or new people because you are too shy and sometimes you may feel afraid to do simple things like asking someone a question or avoiding taking the bus because you don’t like everyone looking at you. If you feel that your shyness is impacting on your life, have a look at the Social Anxiety article.

Self-esteem and confidence

Building your self-esteem and confidence can often help reduce shyness in some situations. Low self-esteem can influence the way you behave. Sometimes shyness can hold you back from new experiences because you become overly concerned with the possibility of failure or looking stupid.

There are ways of building your self-esteem like becoming friends with yourself and challenging your self-talk. Focusing on your good qualities helps to build your confidence and self-esteem, learning not to compare yourself to others and realizing that no one is perfect.

Check out our articles on Self-Esteem and Challenging Negative Self-Talk for more information.

How can you help a friend who is shy?

If you know someone who’s shy, try to help the person feel less nervous. Think about how it feels for you when you are feeling shy. You can even try telling them about a time that you felt shy. It might help them to understand that everyone feels that way sometimes, and they’re not alone.


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

A closer look at what OCD is and how to treat it

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that involves repetitive, unwanted thoughts called obsessions, and repetitive behaviors called compulsions.

With OCD, a person feels as if he or she has to complete these rituals or behaviors to prevent something bad from happening. Performing the compulsions can temporarily reduce the anxiety that a person with OCD often feels.

People with OCD might realize that these thoughts are irrational, but the obsessions and compulsions are difficult to resist.

OCD affects people from all different backgrounds, classes, cultures and sexes. Currently, 3.3 million Americans are living with OCD.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

A person with OCD experiences some obsessive thoughts and a particular compulsion. The intensity and frequency of these thoughts can vary, and it’s not uncommon for it to be worse when a person is particularly stressed, like during exams or a breakup.

Examples of obsessions include:

  • Fear of germs or dirt

  • Fear of harming yourself or others

  • Intrusive sexual thoughts

  • Fear of illness

Common compulsions might be:

  • Cleaning or putting things in a particular order

  • Washing

  • Counting

  • Hoarding

  • Touching

You might also be experiencing a variety of emotions.

You might be feeling:

  • Stressed or anxious

  • Annoyed

  • Frustrated

  • Depressed

  • A sense of shame or a wish to hide your OCD from others

OCD can affect other parts of your life, too, and you might find you’re not able to enjoy the things you normally do. You might also feel more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol as a way to escape or numb overwhelming feelings.


There are a number of different approaches to treating OCD and using a combination of these might be the most effective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). During this type of treatment, a mental health professional talks with a person about his or her symptoms, and discusses alternative ways of thinking about and coping with them. Check out the CBT article for more info.

Medication. In some cases, medication might be helpful. Certain drugs help the brain to restore its usual chemical balance and help control the obsessions and compulsions. A psychiatrist is the mental health professional who could provide more information about medications and could prescribe medications for your use.

Support groups. There are many support groups for people with OCD. Here, you can discuss your experiences with people who have had similar ones. This Obsessive Compulsive Foundation offers more information about support groups and where to find a group. You can also find out about groups through your local doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Journal it. Write your feelings and experiences down in a journal, or on a password-protected or anonymous online space.

Exercise. Go for a run or walk to use up excess energy. You’ll feel better after you do.

Play video games. This can be a good way to distract yourself until the anxiety passes.

Try some relaxation techniques. Activities like yoga or meditation are often helpful in reducing anxiety.

Cry. Crying is a healthy and normal way to express your sadness or frustrations. It’s not weak or dumb to cry when you’re feeling down.

Talk to someone. Talk with a trusted friend or adult, or call a helpline like Lines for Life’s Suicide Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or Your Life Your Voice at 1-800-448-3000, run by Boys Town (for everyone). Both of these hotlines are free and staffed 24-hours by trained volunteers who can help you work through your emotions and connect you to help in your area.

Give it time. Changes in behavior don’t happen overnight, and it might take some time before all OCD symptoms go away.

Information for this article was provided by:

Acknowledgments: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for



Feeling stressed?

A closer look into stress, its causes, and how you can manage it

What is stress?

Stress is a common feeling that comes from a physiological reaction your body has to certain events. It is the body’s way of rising to a challenge and preparing to meet a tough situation with focus, strength, stamina and heightened alertness.

Even though stress can be a positive thing (like motivating us to make positive changes in our lives or giving us that “extra push” for an exam) sometimes we have too much stress and begin to feel that our lives are out of balance. When this happens managing stress could become a challenge.

What causes stress?

Common events that can stress you out (also called stressors):

  • Tests and exams

  • Problems at school or work

  • Relationships

  • New and greater responsibilities

  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

  • Moving to a new place

  • A traumatic event—such as the death of a loved one

  • New or chronic illness or disability

  • Peer pressure or being bullied

  • Unrealistic expectations placed on you by yourself, friends, family, or culture

  • Watching parents argue

  • Feeling guilty

Everyone’s threshold for handling stress is different, and can change from day to day. Depending on your own resiliency (or ability to thrive in spite of adversity), even dealing with one stressor could be enough to overwhelm you. Could you imagine trying to juggle several stressors at once?

How does stress affect the body?

The human body responds to stressors by activating the nervous system and specific hormones. The brain tells your glands to produce more of the hormones called adrenaline and cortisol, and to release them into the bloodstream. These hormones speed up your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and metabolism. These changes within your body help prepare you to deal with pressure, which is also known as a stress response. When this natural reaction works properly, the body’s stress response improves your ability to perform well under pressure.

Can I be too stressed?

If you have too much stress in your life, it can do more harm than good, but sometimes stress is necessary to get through certain situations. For example, feeling stressed out about an exam might encourage someone to study more and prepare for the exam. However, there’s also a chance it could become overwhelming—making you panic and feeling so nervous about an exam that you can’t study or concentrate.

It’s important to remember that stress affects people in different ways, and what causes one person to become stressed may not have the same effect on someone else. Try not to compare yourself too much to others, they’re all experiencing things unique to them as well.

What can happen if you’re experiencing too much stress?

Too much stress may have negative consequences for your health, both physical and mental.

Psychological/Emotional Consequences

  • Feeling hostile, angry, or irritable

  • Feeling anxious

  • Avoiding other people

  • Crying

  • Moodiness, feeling frustrated with things that normally don’t bother you

  • Low self-esteem or lack of confidence

  • Anxiety attacks

  • Depression or sadness

Physical Consequences

  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, or indigestion

  • Headache

  • Backache

  • Inability to sleep

  • Eating too much or too little

  • Raised heart-rate

  • Smoking

If you are experiencing any of these problems you may want to talk to your local doctor, counselor or other mental health professional.

Managing stress

It may not be possible to get rid of the stress altogether in your life, however managing your stress is possible. Below are some ideas for managing stress:

  • Tackling the problem. When you’re feeling stressed, you might not realize right away what is causing you stress. First you need to figure out what the problem is and make it manageable. The problem will not go away on its own. In fact, if you ignore the problem, it will probably just get worse. Once you know what the problem is, there are a number of ways you can de-stress.

  • Go for a walk or run. Exercising can be a good way to relieve stress. It helps to get rid of pent up energy and can leave you feeling much calmer. Exercising also releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good hormones, which make you feel less pain and make you happier overall! Any sort of exercise can be helpful during stressful times. You may want to go and kick a football with friends, dance, or head to the gym.

  • Hang out with friends. If you are feeling stressed, hanging out with friends can be a great way to keep your mind off of things for a while. By talking with friends, you could realize that similar things that stress you out, also stress your friends out. If you are stressing out about school or work, remember that it is also important for you to have a social life. It is okay to go do something fun with your friends and take a break from your other responsibilities sometimes. Balance is key.

  • Turn the stressor into something fun. Sometimes you might find that the problem isn’t all that bad. It might even be fun! For example, locking yourself in your room or library to focus on doing work might help with stress. However, working in a silent room might also be making you more stressed. You might want to try getting a group of friends together to study in one place, and then maybe grabbing a bite to eat after. Studying together could lower everyone’s stress levels.

  • Take some deep breaths. Deep breathing can help to relax the body and calm you down. Taking deep breaths before an exam, game, job interview or before going on stage may help to calm you down and allow you to focus on the task at hand. The Developing Coping Strategies or Mindfulness articles may also be helpful.

  • Set realistic goals. With unrealistic goals, it is hard to keep things in perspective and cause you to get too stressed out. Setting realistic goals (both short-term and long-term ones) and managing your time and expectations may help to reduce or manage stress. You may also want to check out our Problem Solving and Putting Your Goals into Action articles.

  • Have multiple paths to achieve your goals. There is never one path to achieving your goals. It is important not to put all your eggs in one basket. You could investigate and plan other ways to get where you want to go, whether it’s a university degree, job, or holiday vacation. Everything might not always play out how you thought it would, but you might end up happy with the results. For example, you might get a new job and be very excited about it. After a few days, you might realize your tasks are not as enjoyable as you had hoped. Though your path to achieving job experience is not exactly what you thought it would be, in the end, you might reach your goal and be completely happy with it.

  • Try to avoid harmful behaviors. It may be tempting to use smoking, alcohol, drugs and caffeine as a means of managing your stress. Try to avoid using these substances as a coping mechanism because, in the long run, they may make you more stressed out and can be harmful to the body. Once you rely on something like caffeine, you may realize you are unable to function without it. You may also be tempted to engage in other negative behaviors besides using drugs or alcohol, such as procrastinating, overeating, skipping class, or blaming others. These behaviors will likely get you into trouble, create conflicts, or make you even more stressed out once everything begins piling up.

  • Watch what you’re thinking. Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see situations, people, and the world around you. Is your cup half full or half empty? A healthy dose of optimism can help you make the best out of stressful circumstances. Even if you’re out of practice, or tend to be a bit of a pessimist, everyone can learn to think more optimistically and reap the benefits. Learning to embrace the challenges that come up in your life will help you change how you view adversity. Embrace them and conquer them.

  • Speaking to someone. If you find that you are always stressed and have a hard time focusing on daily tasks, it may be helpful to talk to someone. It can be hard to ask for help, but your friends and family members might not be able to read your mind and know what’s going on with you. Talking to someone else might help you realize that something you are stressed out about is actually pretty manageable. Parents, teachers, or a school counselor may be able to help you cope.

Stress and relationships

Maintaining relationships with friends, family, co-workers, or boyfriends/girlfriends may cause you to become stressed, or your being stressed might affect those relationships. To help manage the stress, it could be helpful to talk to someone about what’s upsetting you. Talking to someone that you trust could help you work out why you are stressed out by the situation or relationship and also offer solutions about healthy ways to manage the stress. You can talk to a friend, family, member, or teacher, but if you feel more comfortable talking with someone else, you can also talk to a doctor, counselor, or even trained volunteers on a helpline.

For additional information:

Acknowledgements: This article was originally written by youth and staff for

Social Anxiety


Social Anxiety

A brief look at social anxiety

What is social anxiety?

Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is a persistent and extreme fear of being watched or judged by other people. People who have social anxiety might also be nervous or worried that they might do something embarrassing. This anxiety can last for days before and after an encounter that triggers the anxiety. This might lead someone to avoid situations or places with lots of people. It can also make it difficult for people to take part in everyday activities, like work and school.

Is social anxiety the same as being shy?

No. Everyone feels shy once in a while, especially when meeting new people or in unfamiliar situations. However, shyness doesn’t typically prevent people from taking part in activities that they enjoy.

Social anxiety can make ordinary situations very uncomfortable, and friendships hard to keep. People with social anxiety often experience symptoms like sweating, blushing, shaking and nausea. Generally, these feelings occur during certain stressful situations-like public speaking or informal conversations, or when you’re eating or drinking in front of others.

What causes social anxiety?

There are a number of factors that might cause social anxiety:

  • Genetics: Some scientists believe that certain genes can affect how people react to stress and social interaction, causing some people to become more anxious in social situations than others.

  • Behavior learned by the people around you, especially your parents: In some cases, children raised by people who avoid social interaction might grow up to have social anxiety.

  • Life events: Harmful situations like being bullied or more serious traumatic events that cause people to be fearful of certain situations can also lead to social anxiety.

Getting help for social anxiety

People with social anxiety often know that their fears are irrational, but don’t know how to control them. There is help available for people with social anxiety. If you think you might have social anxiety, start by sharing your concerns with a friend or family member. It is also important that you talk to a doctor, counselor, psychiatrist or psychologist because these health professionals can help you begin to build the skills you need to manage your anxiety. In some cases, medications may also be used to help you control your anxiety.

Social anxiety isn’t the only type of anxiety disorder that can interfere with day-to-day activities. For more information, check out our other articles on anxiety.

Information in this fact sheet was provided by:


Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

Panic Attacks


Panic Attacks

A brief look at panic attacks and how they can be managed

What are panic attacks?

Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear or extreme anxiety. They occur when the “fight or flight” response in your brain is triggered, even though there is no sign of danger. The fight or flight response is a survival system that your body uses. It means that when your brain thinks it is in danger, your body gets ready to fight or run away. If you are experiencing a panic attack, the body will react like you are in a dangerous situation even though you are not.

Panic attacks can happen without any warning. The attack could last for a few minutes or up to half an hour. After the attack, it might take some time to start to feel O.K. again. It is not unusual to experience a panic attack. At least 10% of people will experience a panic attack this year.

After experiencing one panic attack, it is not uncommon to worry about having another. You might even start avoiding situations or activities that you think might trigger an attack, like busy shopping centers, public transportation, airplanes, elevators or isolation.

What are the effects of a panic attack?

The effects of a panic attack vary from person to person. Some might include:

  • Sweating

  • Feeling short of breath, or like you can’t get enough air

  • A pounding heartbeat

  • Chest pains

  • Feeling unsteady

  • Feeling like you’re choking

  • A dry mouth

  • Hot or cold flashes

  • A tingling feeling

  • Feeling faint

  • Trembling

  • Nausea or diarrhea

  • Feeling like you’re losing control or you can’t escape

If you are experiencing any of these effects, it is important to look after yourself.

What causes panic attacks?

The causes of panic attacks are still being researched. But there is evidence that stress as such is associated with panic attacks. Stress alters the chemicals in your body that influence the fight or flight response.

There are some illnesses like diabetes, asthma or inner ear problems that cause similar symptoms to panic attacks, so it is a good idea to check with your doctor to see if the symptoms are due to the illness.

Depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder have also been associated with panic attacks. Check out these articles for more information on these issues.

How can I manage panic attacks?

Self-talk. Remind yourself that this is only an uncomfortable feeling and it will pass. To help it pass, try and distract yourself by thinking about something different, like counting backwards in threes from 100 or singing the lines of your favorite song. You can also concentrate on slowing your breathing down to focus your attention on something else. Other grounding exercises that bring your attention to the here-and-now might include noticing the texture of your clothes on your skin, the colors of things around you, and the sounds of your environment.

Diet. Be aware that stimulants—like coffee, soft drinks or anything else with caffeine in it—drugs, alcohol and smoking can all act as triggers for a panic attack.

Exercise. When you start panicking, a lot of hormones, like adrenaline, start pumping through your body. These hormones keep you feeling panicky. A way to help get rid of them is to exercise, especially by doing something that raises your heart rate. Regular exercise can help lessen panic attacks.

Relaxation. If you are having a lot of panic attacks, it can help to get a relaxation CD or find a similar playlist/radio station online and listen to it for half an hour (or however long you like) every day. This can help to reduce your overall stress. Other forms of relaxation are also useful, such as yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, swimming and going for a walk.

Slow breathing. This is something you can practice while you’re not having an attack, and when you get good at the technique, you can try to use it while panicking to slow your breathing down:

  • Hold your breath and count to 10, then breathe out.

  • Breathe in through your nose and count to three. Then breathe out through your mouth and count to three. Continue this for one minute.

  • Hold your breath again to the count of 10.

  • Do this for about 20 minutes a day (you can break it up, like doing 4 5-minute sessions), and any time you’re feeling panicky.

Seek help. If you are having a lot of panic attacks, or if they are preventing you from doing everyday things that you enjoy, it is possible that you are suffering from an anxiety disorder. You might want to see a counselor or other mental health provider that specializes in these disorders.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, and in some cases medication, can help ease panic attacks.  

Panic attacks can be frightening experiences, but if dealt with properly, can be overcome. The important thing is that you look after yourself and seek help to avoid future panic attacks.

Information in this article was provided by:

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for





What is anxiety and how can you manage it?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear or imminent disaster, and is a normal emotional response to danger. What makes one person anxious may not trigger the same response in someone else. Events like breaking up, exams or a fight with a friend may cause you to feel anxious, worried or scared.

Everyone feels some anxiety at different times during life. It becomes a problem if you feel so anxious that it interferes with your normal day-to-day activities. If this occurs, it’s important that you seek help. A local doctor or a mental health professional is a good place to start if you’re looking for help.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety can affect both your physical health and your mental health (behavior and feelings). The symptoms you experience can depend on a number of factors. These might pass quickly or can stay for a long period of time.

Some common ways that anxiety might affect your mental health include:

  • Irritability or constantly being in a bad mood

  • Feeling worried, or a constant feeling that something bad is about to happen

  • Often asking many unnecessary questions and requiring constant reassurance

  • Getting upset when your routine changes; for example, a substitute teacher, unexpected visitors, or a trip to an unfamiliar place

  • Being a loner, or hanging out with a small group of people (who are often younger or older)

  • Being a perfectionist; for example, taking a long time to complete homework because you try to make it absolutely correct

  • Being argumentative (but not usually aggressive), especially when trying to avoid a feared situation

  • Being pessimistic and easily able to identify what may go wrong in any given situation

  • Not answering questions and rarely volunteering comments or information at school

Some common ways that anxiety might affect your physical health include:

  • Dry mouth or difficulty swallowing

  • Nightmares

  • Difficulty getting to and staying asleep

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Muscle tension and headaches

  • Rapid heart rate and breathing

  • Sweating

  • Trembling

  • Diarrhea

  • Flare-up of another health problem or illness (for example, dermatitis or asthma)

  • Sexual problems, such as not having any sexual feelings or interest in sex

What can I do if I am feeling anxious?

  • Changing your lifestyle: There are many things that you can do to decrease anxiety in your life. Look at the things that are causing you stress and, if possible, change your lifestyle to avoid or confront those things.

  • Eating and exercise: When people feel anxious, they often neglect themselves. Ensuring that you’re eating healthy foods, regular meals, and getting frequent exercise will improve your overall health and well-being.

  • Relaxation: There are many ways you can relax. Some ideas include going for a walk, taking a class like yoga or Tai Chi, learning to meditate or playing soccer with a friend. There are many self-help books in the store or library that offer suggestions to relax yourself, as well.

  • Talking: Bottling things up is likely to keep your anxiety levels high. If possible, talk to a friend, family member, or counselor about the things that are making you feel anxious and see if they can be resolved.

  • Avoid avoidance: Avoiding the things that make you anxious (like school, tests, social situations, etc) may give you a moment of temporary relief, but avoidance actually increases anxiety in the long run. You end up with more worry and less confidence in your ability to cope. Gradually confronting situations that make you anxious might give you a slight short-term rise in nervous feelings but a long-term decrease in anxiety symptoms and improved self-confidence.

Anxiety disorder

If you are feeling so anxious that it’s impacting your day-to-day life, you may have an anxiety disorder. Check out the Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes and Symptoms fact sheet for more information on different anxiety disorders and how they can be treated.

Research has shown that cognitive behavioral therapy is very effective in helping people overcome anxiety disorders. People like your local doctor or a mental health professional can help you, or refer you to someone who specializes in treating anxiety disorders. Medication may also be helpful in managing symptoms and is something that a doctor or psychiatrist may advise as part of treatment.

Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for

Anxiety Disorders: Causes, Types and Symptoms

Anxiety Disorders

A closer look at anxiety and what it looks like for different people

Anxiety versus anxiety disorders

Everyone gets anxious from time to time, it is a normal human experience. Anxiety can help you stay safe. For example, it brings about physiological symptoms that warn you to fight, flee or freeze in dangerous situations. Anxiety also helps you perform better. For example, feeling anxious before an exam can assist you to stay alert, which helps you to do your best. It’s not uncommon to feel anxious before exams or when there are stressful events in your life.

If this anxiety is interfering with many areas of your day-to-day life like schoolwork or relationships, it’s possible that you have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can make you feel nervous a lot of the time in different situations and potentially also long periods of time.

Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million Americans. If you have an anxiety disorder, you are definitely not alone.

What causes anxiety and anxiety disorders?

Anxiety can be part your genetic and biochemical makeup, as well as part of your personality. There are many things that can trigger anxiety, such as your environment, stressful situations, problems within the family, or a traumatic event.

Some causes of an anxiety disorder might be:

  • Genetics: A history of anxiety within your family;

  • Biochemical: Severe or chronic stress can change the levels of certain chemicals in your brain, which can alter your thoughts, emotions or behavior;

  • A stressful or traumatic event: A single event or chain of events such as divorce, abuse, ongoing bullying at school, sexual abuse, a death, a relationship break-up, or family conflict;

  • Personality: Certain personality types are more at risk of anxiety than others.

Types of anxiety disorders and symptoms

There are many different types of anxiety disorders, each with their own symptoms and treatments. Here is a list of examples:

General anxiety is an extreme and uncontrollable worry that is not specific to any one thing.

Social anxiety or social phobia involves a fear of social or performance situations (such as meeting new people) in which an individual may be embarrassed. People with social anxiety commonly avoid social situations.

Agoraphobia is anxiety about being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing if an individual has a panic attack. It usually leads to avoidance of certain places and situations.

Claustrophobia is the fear of enclosed or confined spaces. People with claustrophobia may experience panic attacks, or fear of having a panic attack, in situations such as being in elevators or trains.

Panic disorder occurs when you have regular panic attacks. Some people may develop agoraphobia as a result of the panic attacks.

Specific phobias involve intense and ongoing fear of particular objects or situations. Seeing the object you’re afraid of might trigger a panic attack. Usually the object or situation is avoided.

Hypochondria refers to an extreme concern or worry about having a serious illness. People with hypochondria have a constant fixation with their body, self-examining and self-diagnosing.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) involves unwanted thoughts, impulses, or obsessions and repetitive, routine behaviors, also called compulsions.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder sparked by a major traumatic event, such as rape or accident. It is marked by upsetting memories, “blunting” of emotions, and difficulties sleeping.


There are a number of treatments for the different anxiety disorders. It might be a good idea to research the disorder relevant to you and arrange to see your doctor. They should be able to tell you about the different treatment options available and let you know what the best approach is for you.

Common options include psychotherapy, medications, lifestyle changes, home remedies or alternative medicine, and managing stress through positive coping mechanisms and a solid support system. Depending on your circumstances, it may be beneficial to have more than one of these options in your treatment plan.

Try to remember that managing your anxiety disorder may take time. There may be good days and not so good days. Dealing with your anxiety disorder is possible. For more information and on how to get help, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for