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What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a word that describes feeling worried, nervous, uneasy or scared. It is the body’s response to stress.

What’s Happening in Our Bodies?

Our brains respond quickly when something stressful happens. A fast-acting release of brain chemicals prepares our body to either face stress (“fight”) or run away (“flight”) or ‘freeze,’ often leading to bodily changes that include a racing heart, fast breathing or shortness of breath, sweaty palms, dizziness or faintness, tingly body sensations, nausea or upset stomach. This stress response can be helpful if we need to catch ourselves when we trip and fall or outrun a bear in the woods.

Signs and symptoms of anxiety

How stress affects your body

How stress affects your brain


Sometimes Anxiety Can be Healthy

It can motivate us to get things done well or protect us in an unsafe situation. For example, it is normal and even helpful to feel jittery before writing an exam, shy when introducing ourselves to new people, excited butterflies in our stomach when performing a solo in the school play or going to bat in the baseball finals. Just the right amount of anxiety helps us be our best selves in school, work, sports, and even when hanging out with friends.

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Other Times it Can be a Problem

For many young people, anxiety is predictable, manageable, and even thrilling, like during roller coaster rides. However, some of our brains are wired in a way that is more sensitive to anxiety, and even small things set off deafening anxiety alarm bells.

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You Are Not Alone

Some People's Brains Respond to Stress in a More Extreme Way

Anxiety can make everyday activities seem impossible. Everyday situations such as speaking in class or spending time with friends can cause some people to feel panicked or extremely tense, restless or even physically sick. For some young people, anxiety becomes so distressing that they stop doing the activities that make them anxious. In extreme cases, they stop attending school or talking to friends altogether.

If this sounds familiar, you may be struggling with an anxiety disorder. We encourage you to speak to your doctor regarding a diagnosis. In the meantime, we are here to tell you that you are NOT alone and are amongst friends here at Cam's Kids! 

We have had countless young people courageously share their stories with anxiety, detailing not only their struggles but their triumphs as well. These impactful testimonials explore various topics, from the multiple types of anxieties and ways they can present themselves, to some unique tools and strategies for managing anxiety, to important life lessons people wish they had learned sooner.

We encourage you to listen, read and feel empowered by other young people's stories!

Ambassador Haley's Story



The Good News is that Anxiety Disorders are Manageable

Well-studied treatments provide relief and can help you cope with anxiety and learn how to face your fears successfully. Understanding how anxiety works can help to make the experience of anxiety less frightening and is an essential step in learning how to manage it.


How Anxiety Affects Learning

Anxiety can also affect how you think.

Research has shown that anxiety can make it harder to learn new information and apply it skillfully.

Anxiety can reduce memory and limit your attention, making it harder to stay focused and complete your work. Ongoing or “chronic” anxiety may even lead to changes in the developing brain.

For example, anxiety has been shown to affect the amygdala, making it more difficult to control emotions. Anxiety also affects the brain areas called the frontal and prefrontal cortex, affecting the way we use our executive functions to manage ourselves and achieve goals.


Frequently Asked Questions

While there are many different types of anxiety, often the symptoms experienced by people are similar, especially physical ones. However, it is essential to remember that these symptoms can be related to anxiety, but they can also be related to other things. For example, your heart rate might increase, and you might be sweaty or shaky, but this could be because you went for a run or are worried about a presentation you are about to do. It is essential to think about what is happening and what thoughts you have to figure out whether your symptoms are related to anxiety or not. People who experience a lot of anxiety can have physical symptoms such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, sweating, shakiness, dizziness, and feeling sick or nauseous.

Some thoughts are common in anxiety. A person with anxiety may worry about something happening to themselves and have thoughts like “I’m going to mess up this presentation,” “I am going to say something embarrassing,” or “I am going to get sick if I eat or touch that.” They may also worry about other people and think, “Something bad could happen to my parents if they go out tonight,” or “My friend could get hurt if they go on that rollercoaster.”

It is essential to look at both the physical symptoms you experience and the thoughts you have to better understand anxiety and whether you might sometimes have some anxious thoughts, emotions or actions.

It is normal to experience anxiety. Anxiety can help signal to us when we need to be careful and protect ourselves. However, suppose it feels like your anxiety is persisting and out of control, getting in the way of you doing everyday activities or causing you a great deal of stress, frustration or unhappiness. In that case, it is usually a sign that you have too much anxiety and should seek help.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada ( reports that approximately 12% of Canadians will experience an anxiety disorder over 12 months, while 1 in 4 Canadians will have an anxiety disorder during their lifetime. Individuals aged 15 to 24 have the highest rate of anxiety disorders. About 3.4% of Canadians experience severe or chronic levels of anxiety.

It isn’t yet fully understood what causes anxiety disorders. We know that several factors seem to play a role, including genetics, brain chemistry, life events and experiences and personality factors. For example, if someone in your family has a problem with anxiety (a parent, an aunt, a grandparent, etc.), it may make you more likely to develop anxiety. However, many people have a family member with anxiety who don’t develop a problem with it themselves. Stressful life events and experiences such as being bullied, school stress, parental divorce or losing a loved one are also thought to play a role. It is believed to be a complex mix of several factors that can lead to a person developing a problem with anxiety.

Sometimes our worries and thoughts change over time – you may be scared or anxious about something, and a year later, wonder why you were ever scared about it. We may not ‘grow out’ of anxiety; instead, we learn to manage it in better and different ways. Importantly, suppose an anxiety problem is left untreated. In that case, it can get worse and lead to other issues, so it is essential to learn ways to manage anxiety and seek help and assistance when it becomes a problem.

There are many ways to get help for your anxiety. You may wish to speak to a parent or other trusted adult (e.g., guidance counsellor, coach or trusted teacher at school; family doctor or pediatrician) about your feelings and your worries. This person can help you understand the types of treatment available and what would work best for you. You can also look at books or websites about anxiety to find out more about anxiety and what strategies you can try to help better manage any anxiety you are experiencing. Several books and websites are provided on this website - you can find many of the books in your library or local book store.

There are many treatments offered to help with anxiety. However, it is essential to find a treatment that is ‘evidence-based.’ This means that people who study anxiety in universities, hospitals and other health and mental health centres have examined the treatment and found it to be significantly more effective in treating anxiety than other treatments or no treatment. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy is the most commonly used and recognized form of evidence-based treatment for older children, teens, and adults. This type of therapy, also called CBT, focuses on the relationship between our thoughts, emotions and behaviour.

Sometimes, someone experiencing significant anxiety may also take medication to help reduce anxiety symptoms. Medications combined with CBT can be more effective for some types of anxiety than using one treatment alone.

For more information

Kids Help Phone Anxiety Disorders Ontario Webmd: Teens Good 2 Talk

Disclaimer: Cam’s Kids Foundation is an information website only. We do not provide advice or diagnosis. Please consult a health professional if you think you might have an anxiety disorder.

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Signs You Might Have Too Much Anxiety


  • Regularly feel worried or panicky for no apparent reason
  • Feel like your mind is constantly racing, and you can’t slow it down
  • Always feel worried about everyday events or the future for no reason
  • Continually ask people for reassurance that you haven’t done something wrong or upset somebody or that you are safe
  • Try to avoid any situation that causes anxiety, such as a test or a party
  • Are always trying to be perfect – you’re afraid of making mistakes
  • Can’t sleep well or have frequent nightmares
  • Constantly worry about something horrible happening to loved ones
  • Are afraid of speaking up and asking questions in class
  • Blank out or freeze up in stressful situations
  • Feel dizzy or feel like you might faint or pass out
  • Are afraid that you might ‘go crazy’

Common Anxiety Disorders that Affect Young People

Social Anxiety Disorder

A very uncomfortable feeling in social or group situations or when expected to perform in front of others. Social anxiety is more extreme than simply being shy or introverted. Learn more. 

Specific Phobia

An overwhelming fear of a specific, identified thing or situation.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Anxiety symptoms are associated with past experiences of extremely upsetting or traumatic events. Learn more.

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Intense fear of being away from a parent, home, or trusted caregiver. Learn more.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Uncontrollable worrying about everyday situations and future events. Teens with GAD have a hard time tolerating uncertainty and seeking excessive reassurance. Learn more.

Panic Disorder

Intense and frightening physical sensations that can be triggered by a known cause or may seem to come out of the blue. Learn more. 

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Uncontrollable, unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that cause distress and often lead to repetitive, ritualistic behaviour (compulsions), for example, obsessing about germs leading to excessive hand-washing rituals. Learn more. 


Do You Struggle With Anxiety?

To find out if you might need to see a health professional for treatment of an anxiety disorder, take an assessment:


We are grateful for the content support of Drs. Fisher, Griffin and Walker.

Dr. Dahlia Fisher

Dr. Dahlia Fisher

Dr. Dahlia Fisher, C.Psych. is a registered clinical and health psychologist specializing in assessing and treating children and adolescents. She currently works at The Red Oak Centre, helping children cope with many psychological difficulties, including anxiety and mood disorders, behaviour difficulties, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), adolescent issues and adjustment disorders.

Dr. Claire Griffin

Dr. Claire Griffin

Dr. Claire Griffin is a registered clinical psychologist in Ontario, Canada. She currently works at the Clinic on Dupont, providing assessment and treatment services to children, adolescents and young adults with various mental health concerns, including anxiety, mood and adjustment disorders.

Dr. Darlene Walker

Dr. Darlene Walker

Dr. Darlene Walker, C.Psych., is a registered clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist in Ontario, Canada. She currently works at The Clinic on Dupont, assessing learning disorders and other cognitive or behavioural difficulties such as ADHD, concussion or other head injuries, as well as treating mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and interpersonal or adjustment issues.

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