Anxiety in children or adolescents is a concern for parents and teachers alike. All of us feel anxious sometimes. It is just part of life. We all know what it is like to feel worried, anxious, nervous or fearful. This is as true for children, as it is for adults. However, most of us are able to manage our anxious feelings. We learn to cope with them and are able to carry on despite them.
Anxiety in children or adolescents becomes a problem when children find it difficult to manage their anxious feelings and become stressed, upset and unable to cope with everyday challenges. For these children feelings of anxiety are constant and far more pervasive than an occasional wave of apprehension or anxiety. Anxious feelings dominate and interfere with healthy child functioning and optimum development.
Anxiety in children and adolescents manifests in many different ways, and ranges from relatively minor concerns to more serious and debilitating problems. Children or adolescents who exhibit high levels of anxiety that interfere with normal functioning in everyday life may meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders include panic attacks, phobias, extreme shyness, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. In some cases, children who suffer from an anxiety disorder may find it difficult to leave home to go to school or to visit family and friends or go on outings and errands with their parents.
In addition, they may find it difficult to cope with academic tasks at school. They may also show neurocognitive concerns such as problems with concentration and sustained attention, or difficulties with working memory, and related executive function tasks.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Children who suffer from social anxiety feel self-conscious and fear being around other people. Some of these children may feel that everyone is watching and staring at them or being critical in some way. These children will avoid social situations and other people. In severe cases, children with a social anxiety disorder may prefer to be alone much of the time. They often suffer from performance anxiety and may show concerns around feelings of rejection and humiliation.
Other children or adolescents who suffer from social anxiety know their thoughts and fears are irrational. They know others are not really judging or evaluating them at every moment. But this knowledge does not make their fears and anxieties disappear, nor does it make it any easier for them to engage in social interactions.
Panic Disorder: Children who suffer from panic disorder have panic attacks without warning. A panic attack usually lasts several minutes and can be extremely upsetting and frightening. In some cases, panic attacks last longer than a few minutes or occur several times in a short period. A panic attack is frequently followed by feelings of depression and helplessness. For these children, their greatest fear is that a panic attack will happen again. Often the child doesn't know what caused the panic attack. It seems to come out of the blue. At other times, the child may report that he or she was feeling stressed and upset and expected the panic attack.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Anxiety in children or adolescents may also present as a generalized anxiety disorder. Children who suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder are filled with worry, anxiety and fear. They constantly think about and dwell on the "what ifs" of the situation. They feel trapped in a destructive cycle of anxiety and worry and are vulnerable to feeling depressed. These children and adolescents feel incapacitated by their inability to shut the mind off, and are overcome with feelings of worry. In addition, the child's mood may change regularly, perhaps daily or even hour to hour. The child's feelings of anxiety and mood swings become habitual and disrupt the child's ability to cope with everyday life.
Children with generalized anxiety disorder frequently exhibit physical symptoms, including headaches, irritability, frustration, trembling, problems with concentration and sleep disturbances. They may also exhibit symptoms of social withdrawal and panic disorder.
The treatment for anxiety in children varies and depends on how extreme the problem is and how long the problem has been going on. In addition, the causes of anxiety in children are unique to each child and depend on a unique set of circumstances. Successful treatment outcomes will also depend on unique factors and circumstances. Some children, for example, will feel better after a few weeks or months of treatment, while other children may need a year or more to show positive effects in treatment.
Anxiety in children may coexist with other disorders such as ADD or depression. Treatment in these cases will differ and may take longer. While a treatment plan must be specifically designed for each child, there are a number of standard approaches that can help address anxiety in children. Mental health professionals who specialize in treating anxiety often use a combination of the following treatments:
Anxiety in children affects large numbers of children and ranges from relatively minor concerns to more severe and debilitating issues and behaviors. Children or adolescents who are experiencing high levels of anxiety or who suffer from an anxiety disorder often have difficulty coping at home and at school. Their social, academic and interpersonal skills can suffer, and they may experience difficulty doing well at school.
Early intervention can help reduce anxious feelings in children or adolescents, and prevent problems from escalating. Children who exhibit high levels of anxiety or who suffer from an anxiety disorder also need help to develop healthy coping strategies to ameliorate and reduce their feelings of anxiety.
Contact Dr. O'Connor about anxiety in children. She will respond to your concerns and suggest options for addressing them.
Dr. O'Connor also offers Psychological Assessment Services that she tailors to fit the needs of an anxious child or adolescent.
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Contact Dr. O’Connor to learn more about our Psychological Assessment Services and how to help when anxiety in children is a problem.
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