What is Anxiety?
We often use the analogy of a fire alarm system when we are explaining anxiety. Fire alarm systems are intended to go off when there is a fire. Anxiety is a system in your body that goes off when a PERCEIVED or REAL threat is detected. It goes off so that your body can prepare to protect itself. Thus, anxiety is normal and required to keep you safe. However, some people have more sensitive alarm systems. You’ve all seen or heard of sensitive fire alarm systems that go off when water is boiling and they detect steam. Someone who struggles with anxiety has a similar system that is sensitive. This type of alarm system is very good at detecting threats that are there, but it often also detects threats that are not really dangerous (e.g., talking to friends, going to school, sleeping on their own, etc.). In therapy, we can help you learn to turn off your alarm system to perceived threats that are not really dangerous. We don’t want to make you stop feeling anxiety altogether, because anxiety is important - it helps keep you safe. We just want to make your alarm less sensitive to certain perceived threats.
Types of Anxiety:
- Separation Anxiety: involves excessive fear or distress when having to leave one's home or separate from an attachment figure.
- Selective Mutism: children with selective mutism are able to speak at home but unable to speak in other situations (e.g., school).
- Specific Phobia (e.g., spiders, heights, needles, etc.): involves a very strong fear about a specific situation that is either avoided or experienced with high distress.
- Social Anxiety (Social Phobia): involves a persistent fear of exposure to possible scrutiny or judgement by others. Young people with social anxiety may feel anxious in social situations, worry they will do something to embarrass/humiliate themselves in public, or fear exams or presentations.
- Panic Disorder: involves sudden, unpredictable panic attacks that seem to come out of the blue. These attacks are intense and involve heart attack-like symptoms (e.g., palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, butterfly feelings in belly, sweating) and feelings of impending death or doom.
- Agoraphobia: involves an excessive fear and avoidance of situations where one may feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. Young people with agoraphobia may feel anxious about using public transportation, being in open or enclosed spaces, standing in line or being in a crowd.
- Generalized Anxiety: involves constant unwarranted worrying about a variety of everyday things. Children with generalized anxiety may feel they worry too much about everything.
Common Red Flags
- Experiencing excessive distress out of proportion to the situation. May be evidenced by crying, physical complaints (e.g., headaches or stomach aches), sadness, anger, frustration, hopelessness, or embarrassment
- Seeking repetitive reassurance and discussing numerous "what if" concerns
- Experiencing headaches and/or stomachaches that do not have a medical basis
- Experiencing constant worrying about things in the future
- Difficulty sleeping - falling asleep, staying asleep, nightmares, or difficulty sleeping alone
- Perfectionism or a tendency to be excessively self-critical
- Feeling overly-responsible or overly-organized
- Excessive avoidance of expected activities, possibly refusing to attend school, friend's homes, extracurricular activities, errands, or vacations
- Logical arguments do not help reduce the child's fears; you notice you are providing excessive consoling about distress related to ordinary situations or excessive coaxing to get your child to do normal activities
- AnxietyBC provides detailed information on anxiety and offers tools and videos that can help your child manage their anxiety.
- MindCheck is a great resource for youth struggling with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
- Kelty Mental Health is a local resource that can help you connect with other resources in your community.
- Here to Help is a website which provides a vast amount of information on mental health issues impacting children and youth.
- Canadian Mental Health Association can provide you with information and links to community resources for all mental health issues.
- In Our Hands is a website which offers a great deal of information, videos, and leaflets on mental health issues.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides information on anxiety and depression as well as links to numerous other resources.
- Worry Wise Kids provides information on anxiety for families, youth, and schools.
- E-couch Self Help is an interactive program that provides evidence-based information and strategies to help manage anxiety, depression, loss & grief and relationship difficulties.
- Teen Mental Health provides youth friendly information on a variety of mental health issues as well as resources for parents. They offer a number of great resources, reports, and publications free of charge.
- The Child Mind Institute provides extensive information and resources on mental health issues in childhood. It offers a symptom checker that can give you information about whether your child is struggling with a mental health issue. This site also provides a number of stories about families who struggle with anxiety and offer great resources for teachers.
- Esperanza: Hope to cope with anxiety and depression offers a wealth of information on the symptoms of anxiety and depression, a magazine, a blog and a forum.
- Great resource for breathing exercises.
- Video to help children do deep breathing.
- Anxiety-symptoms is a website that provides helpful information about anxiety and anxiety disorders.
- Medipsy Psychological Services, a clinic based in Montreal, has free downloadable brochures on a number of anxiety disorders.
- This YouTube channel has good videos on mental health problems, including phobias.
Free Apps to Help Manage Anxiety:
- MindShift: is an app created through the collaboration of AnxietyBC and BC Mental Health & Substance Use Services. It was designed to help youth and young adults cope with their anxiety by providing information and coaching on how to manage and face anxiety.
- Pacifica: is an app that allows you to rate and monitor your mood, examine and adjust your negative thoughts, and engage in relaxation through deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation.
- MonStressity: is an game that is intended to help you cope in situations you might experience anxiety.
- Optimism: is an app that allows you to track your mood so that you can better understand your triggers and mood patterns over time.
- Headspace: is an app that helps you engage in meditation and relaxation. Initial use is free, but there is a cost to subscribe for ongoing longer meditations.
- Calm: is an app that helps you engage in meditation and relaxation. Initial use is free, but there is a cost to subscribe for ongoing access to meditations.
- BoosterBuddy is an app that helps you develop and sustain positive habits.