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Anxiety in Children and Teens
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities. Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
Tips to help your child’s anxiety:
- Pay attention to your child’s feelings.
- Stay calm when your child becomes anxious about a situation or event.
- Recognize and praise small accomplishments.
- Don’t punish mistakes or lack of progress.
- Be flexible and try to maintain a normal routine.
- Modify expectations during stressful periods.
- Plan for transitions. (For example, allow extra time in the morning if getting to school is difficult.)
- Keep in mind that your child’s anxiety disorder diagnosis is not a sign of poor parenting. It may add stress to family life, however. It is helpful to build a support network of relatives and friends.
Your child’s anxiety disorder may affect success at school. If an anxiety disorder is causing your child to struggle academically or socially, the first step is to talk to the teacher, principal, or counselor about your concerns. School personnel will likely recognize some symptoms or manifestations of your child’s anxiety at school, but they may not realize they are caused by an anxiety disorder, or how they can help. Use your child’s diagnosis to open lines of communication.
Talk about any accommodations that may help your child succeed in the classroom. You have the right under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to request appropriate accommodations related to your child’s diagnosis. Also ask them to monitor changes and behavior in the classroom so you can inform your doctor of any progress or problems, or ask them to speak to the doctor or therapist directly.
Anxiety in Adolescent and Adults
It's a normal part of life to experience occasional anxiety.
But you may experience anxiety that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming. If it’s an excessive, irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be disabling. When anxiety interferes with daily activities, you may have an anxiety disorder.
The most common amongst teens and adults is GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder. Symptoms of this disorder include:
- Restlessness, feeling on edge
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble falling asleep (mind will not “shut off”)
- Trembling, twitching
- Hot flashes
- Going to bathroom frequently
- Air hunger – feeling as if you cannot get enough ai
- Difficulty relaxing
- Easily startled
- Anticipating the worst outcome for any situation
- Excessive concerns and worries about usual daily activities
Remember that anxiety is normal, but every person has their limit. If any of the signs become recurring or begin to impact you or your child/teen's daily life and/or schooling, it may be necessary to seek professional help.
Dealing with Anxiety
If you or your child’s anxiety becomes a serious issue, it is important to get it treated in order for them to return to their old selves. You may want to consider:
- Getting a checkup: This will ensure that something else is not causing the symptoms
- Seek help with a mental health professional: Working with someone who knows how to specifically treat anxiety can provide significant help. They will help identify the source of the stress, which may then allow the anxiety to be lessened or relieved.
- Get regular exercise, nutrition, and good sleep: Your body will not function as it should if it is not maintained properly. All of these things allow the body to rejuvenate and repair itself from daily stressful activities that may be the cause of the anxiety.
Anxiety in Teens: Self-help Tips
Seven out of 10 teens view mental health issues as a major peer problem, and depression and anxiety rank higher in concern than bullying and drug addiction, according to the Pew Research Center. Stress factors for teens include school grades; appearance; fitting in socially (including on social media); and preparing for college, careers and financial independence.
Teenagers — and their families — can use a number of self-help practices beyond professional therapy and medication to help reduce anxiety symptoms and prepare for the stresses of young adulthood. Here are a few articles describing self-help tactics:
- “Breathing Techniques: 7 Steps to Breathing for Relaxation.” Breathing exercises are a proven method of relaxation, stress reduction and overall health improvement.
- “How to Use Meditation for Teen Stress and Anxiety.” Practicing mindfulness, or meditation, helps the brain rewire to think before reacting to triggers.
- “Exercise Could Be Prescribed to Treat Anxiety and Depression.” Proper diet, exercise and sleep are essential to managing anxiety symptoms.
- “Dealing with Difficult Emotions.” Building positive emotions can create feelings of well-being and happiness.
- “Anxiety in Teens: How You Can Help.” Developing strong relationships with supportive, nonjudgmental adults, including parents and teachers, can help teens gain confidence and find purpose.
Resources for Childhood & Adult Anixety
National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264), https://www.nami.org
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: 1-240-485-1001, http://www.adaa.org
National Institute of Mental Health: 1-866-615-6464, http://www.nimh.nih.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Division of Mental Health, 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth
Coping, Advocacy, & Support
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Support Groups
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), https://afsp.org
ADAA Anxiety & Depression Online Support Group: https://healthunlocked.com/anxiety-depression-support
Freedom From Fear: http://www.freedomfromfear.org/