Common Anxiety Symptoms in Kids
A certain degree of anxiety affects most everybody at some point in their lives. Anxiety can be a good thing in terms of helping a person prepare for an important event or encounter. When anxiety feelings become so intense as to impair or disable a person’s ability to act or function, a disorder may be at work.
Sadly enough, kids can also develop problems with anxiety that affect their ability to cope with everyday life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as much as eight percent of children and teens struggle with feelings of anxiety on an ongoing basis.
For the most part, anxiety symptoms in kids are really not that much different than those experienced by adults. For kids, anxiety symptoms can take different forms and appear in varying intensities. Not all anxiety symptoms in kids are indicative of a disorder; however, the more intense the symptoms the more likely a full-blown disorder has taken root.
While kids do tend to “grow out” of phases or difficult periods, this is not case with anxiety disorders. Anxiety symptoms in kids can pose serious problems as they grow older. Knowing how to spot anxiety symptoms in kids can help in getting a child the help he or she needs before symptoms get out of control.
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Childhood Anxiety Disorders
According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, anxiety exists as an all-pervasive sense of apprehension or dread that has no real, identifiable cause. Unlike the type of anxiety experienced in response to certain situations, an anxiety disorder brings continuous feelings of anxiety that affect a child’s ability to cope with everyday life.
Once anxiety symptoms in kids reach a point where kids become unable to carry out their daily routines, a childhood anxiety disorder has likely taken hold. Some of the most common childhood anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Separation anxiety disorder
- Panic disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Common Anxiety Symptoms in Kids
Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms
As the most common form of anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety entails a constant state of worry and anxiety that exceeds the degree of stress or problems in the child’s life. Children affected by generalized anxiety tend to harbor feelings of insecurity, lean towards perfectionist tendencies and are eager to please others.
Over time the intensity of anxiety symptoms in kids can cause actual physical ailments to develop. Generalized anxiety symptoms in kids typically take the form of:
- Problems sleeping
- Muscle aches and pains
A child struggling with generalized anxiety disorder will exhibit at least one of the above symptoms on a near daily basis for at least six months.
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Separation Anxiety Symptoms
Unlike other types of anxiety disorder, separation anxiety on typically only occurs in children. Children who harbor ongoing concerns about the safety of their parents and/or siblings may be struggling with this condition.
Separation anxiety symptoms in kids include:
- Worrying that a loved will be harmed at any given time
- Marked distress over being away from home, being separated from a loved one
- Distress over anticipating separation from parents or loved ones
- Refusing to go to school
- Stomach aches
A child struggling with separation anxiety disorder will exhibit at least three of the above symptoms on a near daily basis for at least four weeks.
Panic Disorder Symptoms
Panic disorders entail periodic attacks of anxiety and/or panic attacks. Panic attacks bring on feelings of terror that can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes with residual effects lasting considerably longer.
Panic-like anxiety symptoms in kids are usually triggered by certain environmental cues. Children who experience two attacks within a month’s time may be showing symptoms of a panic disorder. Attacks typically occur without any warning.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, panic-type anxiety symptoms in kids include:
- Problems breathing
- Profuse sweating
- Pains in the chest
- Disorientation or dizziness
- Feeling choked or smothered
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develop in response to a traumatic or violent event that a child has witnessed, experienced or learned about. In children, feelings of emotional distress are often expressed as agitation or erratic behavior.
Anxiety symptoms in kids generally take shape immediately after the event and last for up to a year afterwards. Kids will continue to re-experience the event and avoid anything that reminds them of it.
PTSD anxiety symptoms in kids typically take the form of:
- Reenacting the event when playing
- Avoiding certain people
- Avoiding certain places
- Emotional numbness
- Inability to sleep
- Always on edge
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms
When left untreated, anxiety symptoms in kids can get so ingrained as to become full-fledged obsessions. By this point, a child has developed a set of behaviors that work to “protect” him or her from whatever danger the obsession holds.
An obsession may center around an ongoing worry the child has or frightening ideas or imaginings the child has. In effect, the child’s behaviors stem from an overinflated sense of responsibility to protect him or herself, or others from a perceived danger.
Obsession-based anxiety symptoms in kids may take the form of:
- Repeatedly checking door locks
- Washing hands several times an hour
- Taking an unusually long time to complete tasks, such as homework or household chores
- Excessive grooming and hygiene habits
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Anxiety symptoms in kids can develop for any number reasons, though certain risk factors may make some kids more susceptible than others. Both environmental and genetic influences can play a role, though children with a family history of mental illness are most vulnerable.
Ultimately, any form of emotional or psychological distress indicates a certain degree of chemical imbalance in the brain. When left untreated, chemical imbalances tend to grow worse with time, which places a child at risk of developing a more serious psychological disorder. As the years pass, anxiety symptoms in kids also become more so ingrained making this condition all the more difficult to treat.