What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to stress caused by external or internal factors. This is typically a combination of intensive, excessive and persistent worry or fear about what is to come in everyday situations.
Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is a common problem faced by children in today's fast-paced, high-tech, activity-packed society. It has become normal for children to experience anxiety about different things at different stages of their childhood. Today, anxiety is a part of a child’s growing process affecting and influencing their daily routine.
Types of Anxiety in Children
Children experience several kinds of anxiety, such as the following:
- Separation anxiety: Occurs when parted from parents, loved ones or caregivers
- Social anxiety: Fear of social situations or worry about being judged or humiliated
- Specific phobia: Severe, irrational fear set off by a feared situation or thing
Significance of Anxiety in Children
Occasional anxiety is normal and expected to go away on its own over time. If the anxiety is chronic, it can harm a child’s mental and emotional wellbeing, affecting even their self-esteem. The child may become withdrawn and go to great lengths to avoid situations or things that make them feel anxious.
In severe cases, the child’s feelings may become excessive or all-consuming and interfere with daily living. There are reports of anxiety delaying or derailing children’s development in such cases.
How to Spot Anxiety in Children
Children are known to respond differently to stress depending on their age, coping abilities and individual personalities. They may not recognise their own anxiety, nor be able to explain their feelings. Often, the only way to spot a child’s anxiety is by the physical or behavioural changes they exhibit.
Symptoms of Anxiety in Children
Symptoms include but are not limited to the below:
- Trouble concentrating
- Nervousness (nail biting)
- Low self-esteem
- Restlessness, fidgeting
- Withdrawing, avoidance
- Clinginess, self-criticism
- Short-temperedness, tantrums
- Moodiness, excessive crying
- Aggression, fearfulness
- Negative thoughts
- Fatigue, being easily startled
- Poor appetite
- Fast heart rate
- Rapid breathing
- Sweating, shaking
- Feeling choked
- Trouble sleeping
- Bad dreams
- Stomach, head or muscle aches
Causes of Anxiety in Children
- A problem at school (a conflict with a peer or academic pressure)
- Changes in the family dynamic (house-shifting, death or new birth)
- Parental issues (agitation, fighting, arguing or divorce)
- Overly packed schedules with no downtime for long periods
- Bullying (can be subtle or obvious leading to physical harm)
- Serious illness or injury in a motor vehicle accident
- Repetitively being abused, harassed or neglected
- Catastrophic events (natural disasters, terrorism or violence)
- A scary movie, book or news report
- Constantly being around anxious people for lengthy periods
- Changes in routine, activities or food schedules
- Transitions involving new faces, places or times
- Side-effects of medicines or allergy to food items
- Feelings or emotions (wanting to do well in school or fit in with peers)
- Innate or inherited anxiety, recurring medical issues
Treating Anxiety in Children
Anxiety in children is expected to subside over time and eventually disappear, especially if happens only occasionally.
Parents can help their child’s symptoms with the following simple remedies:
- Creating a relaxed home atmosphere
- Providing adequate care, comfort and affection
- Encouraging social or sports activities
- Offering distraction and involvement in enjoyable activities
- Having them spend more time outdoors
- Avoiding over-scheduling, providing regular breaks
- Limiting exposure to upsetting news or incidences
If self-help does not work and the condition gets worse, anxiety may become severe or persistent and start to interfere in daily activities. Also, your child may become more withdrawn and depressed as time passes. This will necessitate a visit to your GP or a paediatrician for professional help.
There are different options to treat anxiety which depend on your child’s age, as well as the cause, level or type of anxiety. They include but are not limited to:
- Counselling: This helps your child understand the reason behind the anxiety and allows them to work through the situation.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): This talking therapy helps manage anxiety by changing the way your child thinks, acts and behaves.
- Anti-anxiety medicines: These may be prescribed alone or in combination with another therapy.
Often a combination of treatments may work best for your child. However, your GP will decide on an appropriate approach for the best results.