What exactly is anxiety and why do we need it?

managing anxietyClinical psychologists Sue Knowles and Bridie Gallagher discuss what anxiety is and how, although it can sometimes feel unbearable for many people, we actually need our anxiety to make our lives work.  Their article has been adapted from their new book, My Anxiety Handbook: Getting Back on Track, which provides young people with guidance on how to recognise and manage anxiety’s difficulties.

Anxiety is what happens when our bodies think we are under threat.  It’s a feeling that most people describe as unpleasant, but the physical sensations can actually be very similar to feelings of excitement.  The difference when we’re anxious is that we also have anxious thoughts or interpret the feeling as “bad”.  Other words that are commonly used to describe feeling anxious are “nervous”, “fearful” or “worried”.

Everyone responds a little differently when they are anxious.  Some people feel anxiety mostly in their body with sensations in their stomach, chest and even sometimes their arms and legs.  Other people might say that anxiety is “in their head” because the main thing they notice is that their thoughts go very fast.  These things happen in our body and our mind because when our body notices a “threat”, it responds in the way that it has since we were living in caves.  Back then, we were threatened by predators and worried about being clubbed to death by other cavemen.  Now, we might be more worried about exams and feel threatened by new groups of people.  So, in the way that is has for eons, your brain uses the information collected by your eyes and ears to detect threats in your environment and, without consulting you, releases a number of chemicals that have immediate effects on both your body and the way you think.

These chemicals affect your breathing, your digestion, heart rate, blood flow and muscle tension.  The aim is to make you ready to get very far away from the threat quickly (flight), kick the hell out of that caveman (fight) or pretend you are dead so he goes away and leaves you alone (freeze).  So, your heart rate and breathing speed up, your blood flows away from you internal organs and towards your arms and legs so they are ready for action.  The unintended consequences can be that you feel tense and a bit sick, or get butterflies in your stomach.  You could start to sweat and feel light-headed or a bit dizzy, even though you might be sitting still.  All these reactions are clever ways ways of your brain helping you to be ready and prepared to manage threat.  However, as threats have changed significantly since this threat system evolved, these reactions are not as useful as they once were.  If we don’t understand what our body is doing, then these reactions themselves can cause even more anxiety.

Some people feel anxious every day; other people only feel anxious occasionally.  Some people’s brains will kick off the chemical reactions much more easily than others.  We think, from looking at the research, that this can be because they were either born with a sensitive threat system or because they have had more difficult and stressful experiences, or both.  There are lots of individual differences, but what we know is that everyone experiences anxiety.

When we are anxious, several things happen to the way we think.  It becomes easier to think of negative rather than positive outcomes, we get stuck on “what if” questions, and our thinking brain shuts down and our threat brain (focused solely on survival) takes over.  This means that we struggle to use the bits of our brains that usually would help us to solve problems and see the wider context, because these bits are offline whilst we manage the threat.  This is a really effective way of dealing with physical threats that were common for cavemen, but it does not serve us so well in complex social situations that we find ourselves in now.

That said, we wouldn’t want to be entirely without anxiety.  This may sound silly, especially if anxiety is making your life miserable, however it is important to remember that anxiety is useful and we wouldn’t want to be without it.  We developed flight, fight and freeze for a very good reason and although we now have more complex worries and things to be scared of, we still need our anxiety to make our lives work.

Imagine if parents didn’t feel anxious about their new baby?  Dads might not bother to baby-proof the house, mums might not bother to check that the car seats are attached properly.  None of these things work out very well for the baby.

Worrying about exams might be stressful, but is it worse than not worrying about exams?  If we didn’t have any anxiety about the future, then we would probably just sit and eat ice-cream rather than revising.  After all, which is more fun and pleasant?

In our new book, we do not aim to rid you of your anxiety.  This might sound like a blissful idea, but we really think that your anxiety is an important and useful part of your life.  It might just need some understanding, and maybe some taming, to make sure it is helping more than it is causing you problems.  We aim to provide you with information and young people’s stories that will help you to better understand your anxiety and where it might come from, and to explain a number of different approaches and strategies to help you to feel more in control of your anxiety.  The ideas that we have included come from research studies, our experiences of working with young people, and the experiences of young people and what they have found helpful.

Use code MAH for a 10% discount when you order this book from our website before the 10th February.

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A comic book story to get teenagers talking about sexual consent

Age range:

Ages 13 to 18

Description: 

A comic book story that gets teenagers talking about sexual consent.  It invites them to debate what’s OK and what’s not OK and encourages them to consider other issues surrounding sexual consent, such as toxic masculinity, pornography and sexting. A set of questions and links to useful online videos can be found at the back to fuel classroom discussion.

Click here to download the resource

This learning resource is taken from Pete Wallis and Thalia Wallis’ new graphic novel What Does Consent Really Mean? which follows a group of teenage friends chatting about the myths and taboos surrounding sex and consent.

If you would like to receive the latest news and offers on our Education books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

A learning resource about a boy named Simon who gets physically bullied

physical bullyingAge range:

Ages 11 to 16

Description:

A story about a boy named Simon who gets an orange thrown at him by a group of boys and repeatedly knocked into as he walks past them in the playground.  It tells the story of the bullying from Simon’s perspective and the emotional impact this has on him.  The story can be read out loud to a class or individually. Also contained are strategies to overcome the bullying, such as using humour to deflect their behaviour, looking and behaving in a confident way and taking a different journey route.

Click here to download the resource

Simon’s story is taken from Michael Panckridge and Catherine Thornton’s Be Bully Free, which is a hands-on guide for young people aged 11+ on how to take control of being bullied.

A classroom story about a girl named Lauryn who experiences social exclusion #AntiBullyingWeek

social exclusionAge range:

Ages 11 to 16

Description:

A learning resource about a girl named Lauryn who tries to fit in with a group of girls but is rejected when she receives a series of cold texts from them. It tells the story from Lauryn’s perspective and the emotional impact this has on her. The story can be read out loud to a class or individually. Also contained are suggested strategies to manage the emotional effect this has on Lauryn, such as choosing a group that fits your own character better, feeling proud of your individuality and understanding that not everyone is nice.

Click here to download the resource

Lauryn’s story is taken from Michael Panckridge and Catherine Thornton’s Be Bully Free, which is a hands-on guide for young people aged 11+ on how to take control of being bullied.

A worksheet to help young people manage the stress of exams

Age range:

Ages 10+

Description:

A self-help CBT worksheet that provides a host of tips, strategies and behaviour techniques to help young people manage the stress of exams.  It includes an exam stress diary with relaxation exercises to help monitor your emotions, and explains the importance of getting into a good routine, not wearing yourself out but also not procrastinating too much either.

Click here to download the resource

This extract is taken from Kate Collins-Donnelly’s Starving the Exam Stress Gremlin, and is the latest instalment in her bestselling and award-winning Starving the Gremlin series. Full of fun activities based on cognitive behavioural therapy, the Gremlin series teaches young people to manage common emotional and behavioural difficulties such as anger, depression and anxiety.

Stop imposing masculine stereotypes on sensitive boys

sensitive boysBetsy de Thierry talks about her her new book, The Simple Guide to Sensitive Boys, and discusses the need for society to stop imposing male stereotypes upon them about how they should behave.

“The creative mind is wired with the ability to feel with great depth and passion. Without good strategies for managing this hypersensitivity, instead of creativity the result can be a plunge into the emotional depths.”[1]

Being male today seems to be complicated. We recognise the statistics that demonstrate the mental health struggle for many males in adulthood, and yet many environments are not recognising the challenges around being male in childhood. The link is important because I believe that we could prevent a lot of the mental health problems presenting themselves if we were able to meet the emotional needs of men at a young age. Continue reading

How can we help children with body image issues to see themselves more positively?

Chris Calland and Nicky Hutchinson, authors of Minnie and Max are OK!, discuss the rising issue of body confidence in children and ways we can help them to see themselves more positively and celebrate their identities.

If you would like to watch more videos like Chris and Nicky’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Education books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time. You may also be interested in liking our Special Educational, PSHE and Early Years Resources Facebook page.

What can teachers and parents do to help children experiencing loneliness?

child lonelinessChild loneliness and its effect upon emotional wellbeing is becoming an increasingly explored topic, as shown by recent NSPCC and Child Line campaigns. But what can teachers and parents do to support children who are feeling lonely? And how can we help children to understand the difference between healthy solitude and loneliness?

In this extract from Julian Stern’s Can I tell you about Loneliness?, we met Jan, aged 11. Jan tells us about some of the things that can cause him to feel lonely. He explains what it means to feel lonely, and discusses therapeutic ways of alleviating this difficult emotion.

Read the extract

If you would like read more articles like Jan’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Education books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time. You may also be interested in liking our Special Educational, PSHE and Early Years Resources Facebook page.

Helping children to have a more positive body image

Body ImageChris Calland and Nicky Hutchinson, authors of Minnie and Max are OK!, talk about body confidence, how it can influence children’s self-esteem and what adults can do to help children have a more positive body image.

What does a positive body image mean to you?

If a person has a positive body image they are happy with the way they look and they accept and feel good about their body. Helping children to be positive about their bodies encourages them to be happy, healthy and confident. Having a positive body image makes children less likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety. It is a crucial part of mental health.

Do you feel that the number of children with body image issues has risen of late? What reasons do you feel are behind this?

Yes, unfortunately the number of children experiencing body image anxieties is growing rapidly and body dissatisfaction is being seen more in many really young children, even at pre-school stage. It is an issue which affects both boys and girls. Continue reading

Strategies in Supporting Children with Special Needs around Death and Dying

“My grandma isn’t a dinosaur. Why are the dinosaurs in this book teaching about death?”

“My dad’s not a leaf. I don’t understand what falling leaves have to do with him dying.”

“My aunt died. Why is everyone saying she’s in a better place?”

Metaphors, symbolic language, euphemisms. These all present challenges for many children with special needs who process information in a concrete manner. The quotes above encapsulate some of the feedback we have heard during our work in hospice care and in special education, as parents describe their struggle with explaining death and dying to their children. We wrote I Have a Question about Death: A Book for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Other Special Needs to address these challenges, and to create a book that parents and caregivers can read with all children. Continue reading