What are the types of anxiety disorders in children? How to identify them?
Anxiety is our body's natural response to panic/fear, nervousness or stress in everyday situations. It is only an indicator of an underlying disease - an anxiety disorder, when feelings become excessive, consuming and interfere with daily life. We might feel that anxiety disorders would most commonly be found in adults but that is not true. According to a new article published in March 2022 in JAMA Pediatrics, by 2020, approximately 5.6 million kids (9.2%) had been diagnosed with anxiety related problems. 1 in 8 children suffer from an anxiety disorder and some of these include separation anxiety disorder, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and others. There are various environmental and genetic factors that may make some children more anxious and less able to handle stress than others. Sometimes It's a negative life event or situation that might trigger anxiety symptoms such as being in crowded places, the loss of a loved one, or violence. Sometimes children may also learn to be anxious for example if a child is surrounded by people who are constantly worried or nervous. A family history of mental health difficulties may contribute and make a child predisposed to showing symptoms of anxiety.
When we think about the symptoms of anxiety especially the presentation of these symptoms in children, we can look for physical symptoms such as stomach aches, nausea, difficulty in breathing, fast heart beats, shakiness and more. Some children may also show emotional symptoms which may include; constant worrying, irritability, negative thoughts, anger outbursts and crying spells. These emotional and physical symptoms can vary child to child and might depend on the type of anxiety that the child is struggling with. Thus, having an understanding of where the anxiety is coming from and how it presents itself might help in the way that it is treated and managed.
Here are a few common anxiety disorders that can be present in children:
Separation Anxiety Disorder- It is a specific kind of mental disorder. A child who suffers from SAD worries a lot about being apart from their family or other important inpiduals. The child fears being separated from their family or that something horrible will happen to a family member if they are not present.
Panic Disorder- A frequent and treatable disorder is panic disorder. Children and teenagers with panic disorder experience sudden, recurrent episodes of acute dread or discomfort in addition to other symptoms like breathlessness or a racing heart. They last from a few minutes to several hours and are referred to as "panic attacks." Panic disorders might be the result of major life changes, traumatic event or even a family history of panic attacks.
Social Phobia- A distinct and enduring fear of social or performance situations where shame might occur is the hallmark of child social anxiety disorder (SAD), also known as social phobia (SP). The youngster typically experiences an acute fear response in these circumstances, which frequently causes severe avoidance or distress.
Obsessive-compulsion disorder- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children is characterized by unwanted thoughts that occur frequently, occupy a significant amount of time (more than an hour per day), interfere with daily tasks, or cause extreme distress. Obsessions are the names for the thoughts.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder- In terms of mental health, generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in a child might mean that the child worries and fears a lot, often for no apparent reason. A youngster who has GAD could worry about things including upcoming activities, previous actions, and family issues. Both biological and environmental factors can contribute to GAD.
Selective Mutism - This is a form of social phobia which causes children to be afraid of taking part in a conversation. Children with this disorder can converse with people they are close to but are unable to do so in not so familiar environments. The same could be at school,with friends, or in other places that could trigger this fear.
How do we identify these anxiety disorders in children?
There are specific signs to look out for in children:
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Not sleeping, or waking up in the night with bad dreams
- Not eating properly
- Quickly getting angry or irritable, and being out of control during outbursts
- Constantly worrying or having negative thoughts
- Feeling tense and fidgety, or using the toilet often
- Always crying
- Being clingy
- Complaining of tummy aches, headaches, breathless and feeling unwell
It is important to note that these signs are only symptoms of anxiety disorder if they are happening frequently enough and out of proportion to the situation/age-inappropriate or interfere in the quality of life or normal functioning of the child
Anxiety disorders are common but treatable with the right methods and mentality. It makes sense for parents to look for ways to reduce or eliminate their children's chronic anxiety. It's very upsetting for parents to see their young children experience worry, and many well-intentioned parents unintentionally make the situation worse by trying to shield their kids from unpleasant feelings.
The aim of anxiety treatment is to teach kids how to manage physical reactions and control their emotional reactions to their triggers. Children won't learn to manage by avoiding triggers, and some triggers cannot be ignored. In reality, while avoidance could make children feel better in the moment, it might eventually make their worries worse. Children must learn to endure their worry and acquire coping mechanisms to deal with it.
The first step is identifying common indicators that your child is going through something. Anxious kids have a tendency to internalize their anxious thoughts for long periods of time. Often, they don't want to burden others with their worries. Dedicating time to getting those feelings out for fifteen minutes each day helps children learn to work through their worries.
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