Anxiety is a completely normal part of growing up, every child no matter the background, experiences anxiety at some point. The issue is when anxiety becomes detrimental to the day to day function of our children. It is bad enough when a fully developed adult has to deal with the perils of an anxiety disorder, unfortunately often times children are much less capable of coping the same way an adult would be. Today we want to take a look at three common anxiety disorders among children. They are GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), acute stress disorder (ASD) as well as panic attacks. We will be delving briefly into each, discussing diagnosis and potential treatment options.
GAD is a very widespread disorder. Children with GAD can (and often do) worry about everything and anything. They are almost constantly plagued by the question “what if?”. Further, they have a borderline obsession with knowing all the details about any given situation. Often times they will be seen looking over their shoulder a lot or just displaying a general sense of anxiousness nearly all the time.
- Excessive/unrealistic fears
- Low risk-taking
- Need for constant reassurance
- Feeling overly responsible for situations in which they have no control
- Physical symptoms including headaches, an upset stomach, and irritability
Treatment of GAD often involves therapy. This therapy will likely focus on re-training the child to focus on their “second thought” instead of dwelling on the first thing that pops into their head. The physical symptoms will often be controlled with relaxation exercises, I.E. teaching the child to practice deep breathing and calming exercises. In some severe cases, medication may be prescribed.
Acute Stress Disorder
ASD is characterized by a group of many dissociative and anxiety symptoms being present within a month of a traumatic event.
Much like PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) begins with exposure to a traumatic or horrifying event. However, unlike PTSD, ASD more often emerges soon and abates much faster. That is not to say though, that ASD is to be taken any less seriously.
As described previously, the cause of ASD is exposure to a traumatic event involving a threat to life or the threat of serious injury, further, it can also occur when a child (or anyone) witnesses something horrific, often involving the death or serious injury of a loved one.
- Being dazed or confused
- Dissociative amnesia
- Recurring dreams featuring the trauma
- Impaired social function
If ASD is present these symptoms are likely going to appear within a month of the event and last anywhere from 2 days to upwards of four weeks. The treatment for ASD in children is often (much like GAD) going to involve extensive therapy. The focus will likely be cognitive behavioral therapy because it has been shown to be much more effective compared to supportive therapy at preventing ASD from becoming PTSD. Again in some severe cases, medication will be prescribed, however, most often this is not the treatment of choice in children.
A panic attack is a sudden and overwhelming sense of anxiety and fear. Among children, these types of attacks can be very traumatic. It is important that you understand the symptoms of a panic attack if you are going to be around children that are at risk.
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations (racing heart)
- Chest pain
- Tremors or uncontrollable shaking
- Choking feeling
Children who experience panic attacks should be encouraged to move their body frequently. They should also be encouraged to take the time to relax more often; you should also monitor and limit their caffeine and sugar intake.