Ask Dr Sarah: Do I Have Anxiety?

"I get butterflies in my stomach before school."

Do you have a personal problem that you need help with? KISS.ie is here to help, with Dr Sarah, a clinical child psychologist specialising in adolescent issues.

“I am really nervous and scared a lot of the time, I get butterflies in my stomach some mornings when I wake up for school and feel like I’m going to get shouted at by someone at all times. I am good in school and rarely get in trouble, so it’s weird that I’m always so worried. I read about a lot of celebs having anxiety and I’m wondering how do I know if I have this, or if I’m just a shy, nervous person?”

Worried, 14

Sarah says: Anxiety is a completely normal, if sometimes unpleasant, human phenomenon experienced by everyone in the world at some stage in their lives. People generally feel some level of anxiety in response to stressful situations (exams, sports matches, public speaking, arguments…) but different things make different people feel anxious. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ and, like back pain or blood pressure, it’s on a continuum and is experienced more severely by some people than others. Anxiety can affect you physically (‘butterflies’, restlessness, poor sleep, lowered concentration, sweating etc.) and emotionally (irritability, feelings of doom and gloom, avoidance of situations etc.). And you’re absolutely right that some of us are just born or made more anxious, nervous and worrisome that others! A certain level of anxiety is good for us in that it keeps us motivated, sharp and excited about important or new events, but it’s considered a problem when the feelings persist for more than a few weeks, start to interfere with your enjoyment of life, or when you can’t identify any specific underlying cause for your worries. When anxiety is at a really severe level, you might be diagnosed by a Psychiatrist as having an ‘anxiety disorder’, but this diagnosis is quite rare. It has become kind of cool for celebs to talk about their mental health difficulties and ‘struggles’, but most of them are just experiencing the same normal stresses and worries as the rest of us. There are lots of things you can do yourself to reduce stress or anxiety including physical exercise, sleep, relaxation, mindfulness or just talking your worries through with a friend or family member. Alternatively, you could look for a referral through you GP for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT); a talking therapy which is really effective with most types of anxiety.

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