Anxiety is a common and a natural experience that is felt by many people irrespective of their age. Anxiety is a normal response when faced with something that is threatening or dangerous, embarrassing or stressful because it prepares us to manage the situation.
How common is anxiety?
Anxiety is one of the most common problems experienced by children and young people. Both boys and girls are affected from this disease. Sometimes the anxiety can be greater than that of their peers and interfere with the young person's life - how they manage on a day to day basis. This can be an indication that an 'anxiety disorder' is developing and treatment for this is necessary.
What causes anxiety?
No one knows what causes anxiety, but there are many things that influence its development. Research has shown that the following four factors contribute to anxiety:
- learned behavior
- negative experiences
People who are having an anxiety disorder are more likely to worry more than other people and are more sensitive to danger. Research has also indicated that anxiety can run in families who may have vulnerable genes.
When parents are anxious, then children can learn that they should also worry a lot. Negative events that have happened in a person’s life can also cause anxiety for example, if a person is bitten by a dog, then that person can continue to be scared of dogs.
What are the signs & symptoms?
Generally anxiety is experienced in three different ways: physical feelings, thoughts and behavior patterns.
Physical sensations of anxiety are a result of the body becoming more aroused. This is often called the fight-or-flight response and refers to the body doing a number of things to prepare for quick action or a quick escape from the potential danger.
Changes that execute from the fight-or-flight response can be: increased heart rate, heavy or rapid breathing, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches.
Thoughts associated with anxiety are usually related to worrying about threat or danger or that something bad is going to happen. Children and young people can have difficulty in talking about their worries.
Behavior patterns that are a common part of anxiety include fidgeting, pacing, crying, clinging, or shaking. Avoidance is the main behavior pattern of anxiety. This can be obvious like refusing to do something they are fearful of, such as going outside when it's dark, or it may be subtle, like staying with someone they know so they don’t have to talk to strangers.
What can be done to help one out from anxiety?
Giving reassurance is a natural response but when a child is anxious it often doesn't work. It means that your child will keep asking for more the next time they are in an anxiety-provoking situation.
Reassurance is positive attention which rewards the anxiety. Anxiety can then become a positive thing. As an adult you need to extract your attention from the anxious behaviors and focus by praising when the anxious behavior has stopped. You need to tell your child that it is the anxious behavior you are ignoring, not them.