The world is a challenging place. Today’s preteens, teens and young adults are all affected by anxiety at one time or another. It is the body’s natural reaction to stress and is a normal part of growing up. Normal anxiety is temporary and usually harmless but becomes a disorder when your child has disproportionate responses to situations that make it difficult or impossible for them to cope. If worries become overwhelming and your child is suffering from an excessive amount fear, nervousness, shyness or they have difficulty sleeping because of their anxiety—they may be experiencing symptoms of an anxiety problem or disorder.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the mind and body's reaction to stressful, dangerous or unfamiliar situations. It's the sense of uneasiness, distress or dread felt before a significant event. A certain level of anxiety helps us stay alert and aware, but for those suffering from an anxiety disorder—it feels far from normal—it can be completely debilitating.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders found in children, teens and young adults today, even surpassing those of depression. Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 8 and research shows that—if left untreated—anxiety can lead to serious mental health problems such as depression, substance use and even suicide. It can interfere with the ability of your child to focus and learn—causing school or work problems. It can have lifelong impact on their ability to deal with everyday social issues. Anxiety can also lead to physical problems—such as headaches, chronic pain, digestive problems and heart disease later in life.
How Can I Tell if My Child Has Anxiety Disorder?
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can come on suddenly, or they can build gradually and linger until you begin to realize that something is wrong with your child. Sometimes anxiety creates a sense of doom and foreboding that seems to come out of nowhere. It's common for those with an anxiety disorder to not know what's causing the emotions, worries, and sensations they have.
Common signs and / or symptoms of an anxiety disorder can include:
- Feeling anxious, worried or afraid for no reason at all.
- Worrying too much about everyday events or activities.
- Changes in behavior, such as irritability.
- Restless, fidgety, hyperactive or distracted.
- Exaggerated and usually inexplicable fears (phobias).
- Avoiding activities, school or social interactions.
- Panic attacks or fear of having panic attacks.
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating.
- Substance use or other risky behaviors.
- Chronic physical complaints, such as fatigue, headaches or stomach aches.
Often the symptoms of anxiety are associated with physical complaints such as upset stomach, headaches or increased heart rate. An examination by a family physician is commonly the first step in knowing if your child has an anxiety disorder.
How Are Anxiety Disorders Diagnosed and What Are the Treatment Options?
While there aren't any laboratory tests to specifically diagnose anxiety disorders, your family physician might use various diagnostic tests to rule out physical illness as the cause of the symptoms. If no physical illness is found, your child might be referred to a mental health professional who is specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. A mental health practitioner will then use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate your child for an anxiety disorder and lay out a course of treatment.
We use Dialectical Behavior Therapy to identify and change thinking patterns and unhealthy behaviors that negatively affect quality of life, teaching your child how to develop new skills to effectively cope with stress, manage emotions, decrease conflict, improve relationships with others, focus on the present and live in the moment. We then help them practice these skills so they can apply what they have learned at home, school, work and in the community to achieve their goals, improve their well-being and affect lasting positive change.
If You Think Your Child has Anxiety, Get Help Today!
As a parent—you will encounter your preteen, teen or young adult working through emotions of fear, worry or anxiety while growing up. Try to see the world the way they do and help them to keep perspective and find ways to cope. However, when these emotions and concerns become too difficult, they may need additional help.