Anxiety and stress

It is natural to feel anxious or stressed at times when life’s pressures and demands put a strain on our inner resources, mental or physical.

It’s not unhealthy to feel anxious before an exam or when there is an argument going on at home. We learn about life through experiencing difficult situations and realising we’ve survived them and learnt from them. These experiences enhance our resilience. And sometimes when we’ve got through a difficult thing, we feel proud of ourselves at achieving a satisfactory result, even if that was ‘just surviving it’. And when it is a great achievement, like winning a race, or managing exams, or learning to drive, or navigating ruffled feelings with our friends and working out a way forward, we deserve to feel really pleased with ourselves.

However, there is a different level to stress – when it’s chronic (going on for a long time) and we can’t seem to find a way to get out of it or we feel powerless to change things. Then stress and anxiety can build up and drain our resources, our emotional wellbeing and our capacity to process new information. This is ‘negative stress’, where our thinking processes are confused and affect our short-term memory so we can’t remember things or manage things.  It turns into anxiety, a feeling of unease or fear that doesn’t go away and can become quite severe, affecting daily life. Several conditions are based on anxiety, such as OCD, panic disorders, insomnia, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and phobias.

To deal with stress and anxiety disorders, it is important to find out the underlying causes and to talk these through so that we can understand the reasons. Once we understand where something is coming from, or why it’s there, we can take steps to improve and remove the symptoms and return our systems to a more normal, regular functioning. As with any other feeling that is causing unwelcome intrusion into your normal life, talk to a trusted person and ask for help.

Anxiety is treatable. When anxiety becomes unmanageable, it is important to seek help from a school counsellor or GP. This disorder responds well to a form of talking therapy called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and many counsellors are trained in these techniques. You can also do CBT online or read self-help books. Read our page on where to get help.

Some ways to manage stress:

  • Make a list of possible causes of stress in your life
  • Think about your choices and what changes you could possibly make. Acknowledge what you can’t change and accept that you can’t do everything, or at least not all at once
  • Use new ways to defuse tension, for example, get a punch bag, go running, take up yoga, talk to others
  • Take a look at mental health charity websites listed in our page on where to get help – they are a great source of further information and many have helplines
  • The Mental Health Foundation has some excellent advice on how to overcome fear and anxiety here.