Anxiety Disorders in Children: How Do They Manifest?
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The human body is an amazing machine, providing exactly what you need at the very moment that you need it. When you exercise, your body produces sweat to cool itself off. When you need energy, you feel hungry, leading you to eat and supply the needed energy. Likewise, anxiety is a normal aspect of the human condition; it is a reaction to stress. It helps you cope with tense situations or remain focused for long periods of time. It also alerts you to danger in the environment. But when anxiety becomes an extreme irrational dread of everyday situations and begins to interfere significantly with normal functioning, it is no longer assistive and adaptive, but has become a debilitating disorder.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common emotional, mental, and behavioral problems to occur in young people. Today, four to five million children and adolescents have anxiety disorders that fall into a variety of categories. These include:

Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

When a child is very young, a certain amount of separation anxiety is reasonable and expected. However, a child with SAD simply cannot be apart from a parent or home at all. In other words, this disorder is characterized by anxiety regarding separation from family that is excessive or inappropriate for the child's age. In some children, spending the night at a friend's house or going to summer camp would be totally out of the question; even just being alone can cause great distress. This fear sometimes focuses on the belief that something terrible will happen to the parent—even death—if the child is separated from that parent. SAD can become so extreme that the child is unable to attend school.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

The hallmark of GAD is excessive worry and clear physical symptoms of anxiety, such as sweaty palms and racing heart. Young people with this type of anxiety disorder worry a great deal about many things, including but not limited to, their grades, performance in sports, or even the need to be punctual. It is not unusual for them to experience health problems, such as nagging stomach aches or headaches, that have no medical basis but are caused by the physiological state of frequent anxiety.


Phobias tend to develop in childhood. Whereas a child who is afraid of a snake is certainly not phobic, a child who is terrified of germs, harmless animals, or storms, probably is. A phobia is a fear of objects or situations that is so great, the child feels compelled to avoid them. Perhaps one of the most prevalent and damaging for young people is social phobia. Children and teens with social phobias are inordinately afraid of being judged, humiliated, or criticized. Just as an average person would back away from a live snake, an individual with social phobia begins avoiding others, especially in groups. This avoidant behavior drastically impedes social development, friendships, and dating.

Panic Disorder

At one time or another, most of us have said these words: "I was scared to death." Unfortunately, when an individual experiences a panic attack, they often feel as if they are actually going to die. In such an attack, overwhelming fear is accompanied by sweating, an erratic heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, or extreme intestinal distress. For a child, perhaps the only thing more fearful than the actual panic episode, is the thought of it happening again. After experiencing a panic attack, a child goes to almost any length to avoid another one. This means they may refuse to go to school, or even refuse to leave the home.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

A child or adolescent with obsessive-compulsive disorder gets caught in a pattern of persistent thoughts or repeated behaviors, such as hand washing or counting or checking on something, like a locked door or window. As with adult OCD, the young person may fully recognize the pointlessness of the thoughts or action, but is unable to stop. A child may also begin to believe that she has magical control over things. For example, the child may believe that in order for her parents to remain safe, she must ask God 150 times everyday to protect her parents. The child believes absolutely that if she fails to do so, the parents will die. A difficulty with this type of skewed thought process is that it often seems to work. Everyday, the child prays, and everyday, her parents don’t die; therefore, the praying appears to work, and the child continues to do it.

Anxiety disorders are true illnesses; as such, treatment is usually required. If you have a child, or know of an adolescent girl who is struggling with anxiety, please get help before she, or her family, are crippled by the disorder.

Source: Remuda Ranch