Anxiety

  • What is anxiety?

    Anxiety is a natural human reaction that involves the body and mind. It serves as an important survival function. When a person perceives danger or a threat, anxiety serves as an alarm system for the body causing mental alertness and physical symptoms such as rapid breathing, pounding heart and tense muscles.

    In children and adults, anxiety often occurs when a situation or a stressor becomes overwhelming or difficult to deal with. It can be related to a specific event or can be generalized across a number of stressors. Anxiety may include feelings, thoughts and physical systems, depending on the individual.

    Anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions. It affects people of all ages — from children to senior citizens. There are different types of anxiety disorders and different symptoms, but all share common traits:

    • The anxiety felt is out of proportion to the situation
    • The anxiety is affecting the person’s daily life

    Common types of anxiety include:

    • Generalized anxiety — worrying about many things; often includes physical symptoms such as headaches, chest pain and stomachaches
    • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) — anxiety that leads to repetitive bad thoughts and repetitive actions to try to relieve the anxiety, i.e. fear of germs that leads to constant hand washing
    • Panic attacks — anxiety that leads to intense physical symptoms including shortness of breath, dizziness,  chest pain or numbness
    • Phobias — an intense fear of specific things or situations that are not dangerous, i.e. fear of heights, fear of spiders.
    • Social anxiety or social phobia — an intense anxiety caused by social situations; i.e. speaking in front of the class
    • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — anxiety stemming from a traumatic or scary experience; may produce nightmares, flashbacks and constant fear
  • Signs and symptoms

    Different people have different symptoms when they are feeling anxious. Some examples of anxiety symptoms that you or your child may experience include:

    • Not being able to stop worrying
    • Not being able to stop certain thoughts
    • Feelings of nervousness
    • Feelings of panic (heart racing, dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating)
    • Feeling overwhelmed
    • Butterflies in your stomach
    • Stomachaches (including vomiting, diarrhea)
    • Headaches
    • Tiredness
    • Sleep problems
    • Changes in eating (eating more or less than normal)
  • Causes

    Everyone has feelings of anxiety occasionally. If your child is attending a new school, going to an unfamiliar place or preparing for a challenging school assignment, he may feel anxious or nervous for a time.

    Anxiety — and the resulting symptoms — is part of the body’s fight-or-flight response to help alert your body to potential danger. When the suspected danger has past, the body relaxes.

    For children with chronic anxiety, small worries may fester, causing the child to feel overwhelmed, trapped, tongue-tied or unable to do what they need to do.

  • Testing and diagnosis

    If your child is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, if anxiety is interfering with school, work and relationships with family and friends, talk to your child’s primary care physician or pediatrician. You can also make an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist to help determine if your child’s anxiety is temporary or a more chronic condition.

  • Treatments

    There are a number of options for treating anxiety. Options include:

    Individual therapy

    • You and your child can discuss worried thoughts and physical symptoms
    • You and your child can learn relaxation skills
    • You and your child can learn coping skills

    Family therapy

    • If your child’s anxiety is related to something going on in your family, a therapist can meet with your family together.

    Medication

    • Your child’s primary care physician or a psychiatrist can prescribe medication to help reduce anxious feelings and physical symptoms of anxiety.