Don't let fear and anxiety get the best of you

By YP cadet Maggie Suen
By YP cadet Maggie Suen |

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Life gets on top of all of us at times. There are so many things to worry about - schoolwork, pressure from parents, the future.

But sometimes that pressure develops into something more serious. A lot of young people suffer from anxiety disorders. An anxiety disorder is a mental illness which can cause a person to worry, and fear almost everything that happens. If you have experienced these feelings, you are not alone. Here's what you need to know about anxiety.

Do I have an anxiety disorder?

"One of the biggest differences between normal anxiety and anxiety disorder is the way that it affects your life," says Dina Chamberlain, a psychologist at the Hong Kong Psychological Society.

A little anxiety is normal. But if you are suffering from anxiety disorder, you will likely experience anxiety, fear and stress even when you are only thinking about a situation, says Chamberlain.

For example, everyone gets nervous the night before a big exam. But if you can't stop worrying for weeks beforehand, you may be suffering something more serious. Fear and anxiety should not be a part of our daily lives.

If it's really bad, you may experience panic attacks during particularly stressful times, when your heart beats fast, you feel dizzy and you have trouble breathing.

It's important to recognise if you are suffering from any of these symptoms, otherwise the situation could get worse.

"These negative emotions will interfere with [your] daily life, and finally lead to worse consequences," says Chamberlain.

Do I need treatment?

"Treatment for teenagers struggling with anxiety disorder is important," says Chamberlain.

"It should not only be because of fear for the [worsening] symptoms; it is also to take your life back from the tyranny of the disorder."

Anxiety disorder can affect every part of your life. You may find it hard to maintain friendships or focus on your schoolwork. It can even lead to depression.

"Teenagers undergoing constant worry and stress could have a poor lifestyle, with little sleep and no appetite," says Chamberlain. Sufferers may also find it hard to concentrate and have little energy.

Some teenagers with anxiety disorder also worry about socialising or hanging out with friends. This can lead to low self-esteem and social isolation.

But it is possible to regain control. Treatment, particularly therapy, can help you overcome these problems, and prevent things from getting worse.

Try not to be too scared of therapy. It can be hard to take the first step, but remember that it has helped millions of people take control of their lives.

What else can help?

Along with therapy, there is also medication and behavioural treatment which can help you overcome anxiety disorder.

Behavioural treatment encourages you to change the way you think. That might sound hard, but actually a few small steps can make a massive difference. For example, try to focus on the positives in any situation.

There are also things you can do in your everyday life. Make sure you eat healthily and regularly exercise. Studies have shown that exercise can improve people's mood.

You can also relax by taking deep breaths and exhaling slowly.

"Learning how to breathe deeply and having a few minutes of mindfulness during the day can help you to work through feelings of despair and apprehension," says Chamberlain.

It's also important to keep busy. Take up a new hobby or join a club; spending time with others is often the best cure.

"Help might not be medication or even counselling," says Chamberlain. "It could just be lots of love and support from family. It could be more exercise, healthier eating or more sleep."

Try looking at the disorder as an opportunity to improve yourself and grow as a person. If you can overcome this challenge, then you'll know you are ready for anything life throws at you.

"[After all], if there is nothing pushing us out of our comfort zones," says Chamberlain, "we may never develop into our true selves."

For more information on where you can get help, visit GovHK’s mental health page.

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