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5 Types of Anxiety in Children and Youth
Many of us know someone who has – or have experienced ourselves – regular anxiety attacks. We are familiar with the term and some of the symptoms that go along with it. It’s that worried feeling that creates a rock in the pit of your stomach, or the reason your palms get sweaty and your chest gets tight.
Anxiety can be helpful. That nervousness you feel before a test or public speaking can actually help you prepare. Or, if you are in actual danger, your anxiety acts as a warning bell that triggers your “fight or flight” response. Which helps you decide on how to act in the moment, potentially saving your life.
Children and youth are more prone than adults as they try to make sense of the world around them. Their childhood fears are quite normal, and will often dissipate as the child grows older. In order to determine if anxiety is becoming a problem, it is important to consider the age of the child and common fears of children that age.
What many of us probably don’t realise is that anxiety is the most common diagnosis of mental health problems in young people. There are 5 types of anxiety found in children. Kids can be diagnosed with more than one type of anxiety disorder, or an anxiety disorder coupled with another mental health issue.
5 Types of Anxiety in Children:
It’s not uncommon for children to experience anxiety when their primary caregiver leaves them with a new person (i.e. a babysitter), but they are usually quick to adapt to the situation. However, a child who has separation anxiety will continue to have a hard time. It can even go to the extent where the child has difficulties being in a different room than their caregiver. This fear inhibits the child’s ability to learn to do things on their own.
Children who suffer from separation anxiety might:
- Refuse to go to school
- Call frequently asking to be picked up
- Cry, and refuse to let go of their caregiver
- Throw fits
- Have difficulty going to bed at night, or regularly crawl into bed with their caregiver in the middle of the night.
- Avoid having play dates away from home, or sleepovers
- Refuse to be left with a babysitter
- Worry that bad things will happen to their caregiver
- Complain about physical symptoms before, in the middle of, or after a separation
A child who suffers from this type of anxiety will have a lot of fear or worry when it comes to social interactions. They will feel fear if they are ever the centre of attention (or feel like they are the centre of attention). They will be terrified of embarrassing themselves, and will constantly worry what other people think of them. They can often worry about whether they are wearing the “right” clothing or saying the “right” things.
A child who is suffering from social anxiety will often avoid:
- Talking with people older them, or their classmates
- Attending social events (like birthday parties, or school dances)
- Making phone calls
- Public speaking
- Going to school
- Eating in public or using public bathrooms
This kind of anxiety is as the name implies – it’s where a child is afraid of a specific situation or object. Their fear is often far stronger than the danger posed by that situation or object.
Children who have a strong specific phobia will often do whatever they can to avoid contact with what they are afraid of, for example:
- Specific situations (Driving over bridges, Flying in airplanes, or Riding in elevators)
- Specific Environments (Being in the dark, Heights, or Being in water)
- Specific insects or animals (Dogs, Snakes, Spiders, Etc.)
- Specific Medical or Physical incidents (Getting a needle, Going to a hospital, or Vomiting)
Children and teens who have a general anxiety disorder worry about a lot of things and are generally referred to as ‘worrywarts’. They often ask ‘what-if’ questions and are constantly seeking reassurance. “Should I really pick that one?” or “Are you sure I did it correctly?” These are examples of questions frequently asked by people suffering from a general anxiety disorder.
Children or youth suffering from general anxiety may often worry about the following things:
- How they are doing in school
- Achieving perfection
- People’s opinions of them
- Current events
- Status and safety of loved ones
- Unfortunate events (Robbery or accidents)
- Being timely
- Everyday stress (What to wear, where to go, who to hang out with)
A child who has a panic disorder will become undone when an attack strikes. When they experience anxiety, it is the most intense and debilitating feeling.
Panic attacks often come along with a lot of physical symptoms, such as:
- Heart racing
- Uncontrollable shakes
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Difficulty breathing
Children may be scared that during a panic attack, something bad will happen (passing out, death, or losing their mind). This will ingrain in them a deep-seated fear of future panic attacks. They may also become afraid of certain places where panic attacks are more likely to occur, such as crowded or enclosed spaces. This fear can cause them to avoid these places and situations and is called ‘agoraphobia’.
In order to be able to help our children, family members, and loved-ones, we need to be able to understand them. If you know someone suffering from anxiety, you may find it helpful to know what kind of anxiety they struggle with to help you craft a more appropriate response. For parents who have children with anxiety, see about getting them professional help and creating a treatment plan that will help them long-term to control their anxiety, so their anxiety doesn’t control them.