At a basic level anxiety is a form of stress. This is particularly so in today’s modern world where there are many factors that can cause anxiety in children. Factors which were probably not around a mere twenty or thirty years ago.
With the abuse of the internet and social media our children are exposed to a whole new level of anxiety-causing situations.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a natural reaction in the body that takes place when you are faced with danger or threatened. The “fight-or-flight” mode kicks in, adrenaline rushes through your bloodstream and your body prepares to fight, or run, for survival.
This is a normal and necessary biological reaction that could quite literally save your life if you are in real danger.
If your body reacts in the way described above when there is no material threat facing you, it is considered to be an anxiety disorder. Symptoms include:
- a rapid heartbeat,
- sweaty/shaky hands and feet and
- difficulty breathing.
A scary experience for adults, anxiety can be even more frightening for children who don’t fully understanding what is happening to them.
Manifestations of anxiety disorders
A child who is generally anxious will appear worried all the time. The child will have a tendency to stress about the safety of their family and friends, school and the future in general.
Physical symptoms can include stomach upsets, headaches, muscle tension and unusual tiredness.
A phobia is an intense fear of something specific or a particular situation that is not necessarily dangerous. Examples include a fear of heights, an insect or being “trapped” in an enclosed space like an elevator.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
People suffering from OCD will have excessively preoccupying thoughts and/or compulsively do the same thing over and over.
Kids with OCD are inclined to obsess about something specific, developing “rituals” to make sure things are right.
An example of compulsive rituals might be repeating a certain word or phrase, touching, tapping or counting, repeatedly checking whether a door is locked, or even go in and out of a doorway several times.
More than just shyness, social anxiety is an ongoing fear of speaking in a social setting or in front of strangers. Less commonly, some children also experience social mutism, where they will refuse to speak at all in certain social situations.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
This type of anxiety follows a life-altering event in the child’s past, such as a death in the family or witnessing a violent accident or incident. PTSD presents with nightmares, flashbacks, fears and avoidance of anything related to the incident that cause the condition.
These are sudden onset attacks. A child may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, a pounding heart, tingling or numbness.
Possible causes of anxiety disorders include a predisposition due to genetics. Experts are not entirely sure what the precise causes for anxiety are but they could include;
- stressful life circumstances,
- brain biochemistry,
- an overactive adrenal response and
- learned behavior.
Children who have been abused are more likely to develop anxiety disorders, as well as kids suffering from PTSD.
The death of a loved one or moving to a new city and having to change schools can be extremely traumatic for both very young and older children.
Being raised in a home where someone else is fearful and anxious all the time can also lead to the child “learning” to be fearful of the world. Similarly, a child growing up in a dangerous neighborhood or in a war zone will also be more prone to anxiety.
If you suspect your child may have an anxiety disorder, it’s essential to seek professional advice as soon as possible. There are many worthwhile and successful treatment methods available to help your child cope with this potentially debilitating condition.