Anxiety affects as many as 1 in 10 young people.
It affects boys and girls equally until puberty and then girls are more often affected.
Unfortunately, these disorders are often difficult to recognize and may be considered a phase or simple shyness. To distinguish normal behaviour from an anxiety disorder look at the frequency and intensity of the behaviour. Young people may experience, prolonged loss and severe grief regarding the loss of a pet or they may always anticipate that harm will come to a traveling parent (i.e. can’t sleep, vomiting etc.).
Anxiety disorders can cause youngsters to feel excessively frightened, distressed, and uneasy. Left untreated, anxiety disorders can dramatically reduce a child’s quality of life. They can lead to poor school attendance, school avoidance, low self-esteem, deficient interpersonal skills, substance abuse, and adjustment difficulty.
Only about one quarter of those who suffer from this disorder ever seek and eventually receive appropriate treatment and help.
What you may see in an anxious child is an exaggerated presentation of the following:
- When very young these children are overly cautious and reluctant of new situations.
- They may have a fear of rejection or humiliation.
- These children will often anticipate the worst, feel frightened and expect bad things to happen.
- They worry about everyday events and activities such as attending school, sports practice or other performance-related activity.
- They often complain of fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, nausea and vomiting.
It helps to modify the environment:
- Increase the predictability of the child’s life by preparing the child for what is going to happen i.e. 10-15 minute warning.
- Reduce negative emotions around the child.
- Reduce their extracurricular activities to 1 or 2 per week.
- Decrease tension around the child.
- They have increased sensitivity to mild criticism; to them, it is like yelling.
Start getting across the concept that ‘how we think can affect how we feel’.
- What’s the worst thing that could happen? Usually it’s not that awful.
- What are the chances for the worst thing to happen?
- What are more realistic things that could happen?
- What things can you do to handle the situation? Help the child to anticipate the sequence of events and what will likely happen.
- Relaxed breathing (balloon breathing – slowly).
- Regular exercise and sleep routines.
- Avoid caffeine, colas and chocolate.
Reviewed by M. Kodsi, M.D., Child and Family Psychiatrist.