Growing Minds

Understanding Anxiety Disorder in Children

Just like adults, a certain level of anxiety is normal. Whether they’re anxious about starting a new school or visiting the dentist, anxiety is a part of everyone’s life to some degree. From small instances of separation anxiety to fears of strangers and the dark, children experience many things that can make them anxious, especially at a younger age. 

Understanding the difference between a normal sense of anxiousness and a mental health disorder, often classified as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), is vital in helping your child receive the treatment they need and cope with the symptoms and feelings of an anxious mind. If you notice that your child is constantly anxious about experiences and people, they may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. 

Don’t let the possibility of a diagnosis stop you from getting it looked into further. It is nothing to worry about. Instead, embrace the idea that a thorough evaluation and professional diagnosis will get your child one step closer to a higher quality of life with less worry in their daily lives. 

Quick Anxiety Facts

  • Nearly 20% of all youth are living with an anxiety disorder. Of that 20%, females are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder when compared to males. This is true at both the youth and adult stages. 
  • A diagnosis of GAD comes with multiple risk factors, including genetics, lifestyle changes, family dynamic, and neurological disorders. 
  • Symptoms can affect both physical and mental health. 
  • The most prevalent symptom includes excessive, unrealistic worry and fear. 
  • Children with ADHD are more likely to be diangosed with GAD.
  • According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 3 children ages 13 to 18 will be diangosed with an anxiety disorder, a steady increase in cases since 2007. 

Symptoms of General Anxiety Disorder 

There are a variety of symptoms when it comes to general anxiety disorder. Some symptoms are mental, while various others cause negative physical changes.

The most common symptoms of GAD are:

  • An unrelenting feeling of anxiousness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Muscle tension
  • Stomachaches
  • Frequent urination
  • Memory problems
  • Racing and unwanted thoughts

Less common symptoms include anxiety and panic attacks, sweating, heart palpitations, nausea, and trembling.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Treatment

Depending on the severity of GAD, lifestyle factors, professional recommendations, and personal preferences, there are various ways to treat anxiety effectively. 

There are three common ways mental health professionals treat GAD in both children and adults. They include:

  1. Medication

If your child is suffering from moderate to severe GAD that affects their daily lives and causes constant symptoms, medication may be the best route for treatment. Typically Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the type of anxiety medication prescribed for children. They are most commonly known by names such as Zoloft (sertraline), Prozac (fluoxetine), Lexapro (escitalopram), or Celexa (citalopram). They are taken orally on a daily basis to reduce symptoms and provide a better quality of life. 

Before beginning medication, your healthcare provider should discuss side effects, dosage requirements, and complete treatment options with you and your child. Note that dosing may fluctuate at the beginning of treatment based on the changes your child experiences. 

  1. Therapy

Through various forms of psychotherapeutic interventions, your child may reduce their anxiety symptoms and feel better without the need for medication. 

Therapy is an ideal option for those struggling with mild to moderate anxiety, but may be used in conjunction with medication for those with more severe cases.

In therapy for GAD children will:

  • Learn relaxation techniques that work to calm their anxious thoughts and symptoms.
  • Identify fears and worries at the source.
  • Develop positive self-talk to boost confidence and lessen social anxiety.
  • Openly share their thoughts and feelings without worry.
  • Implement coping mechanisms that help them deal with bouts of anxiety quickly and easily. These often include physical activity, an increase in socialization, and stronger self-assurance skills. 

You, as the parent, will likely be asked to join in on therapy sessions to learn best practices for coping along with positive ways to help your child with anxiety. 

  1. Lifestyle changes 

Various lifestyle factors can contribute to GAD. However, simple at-home changes can play a significant role in helping your child cope with their symptoms, lessening the severity and providing a more stable, secure feeling.

Some of the most significant lifestyle changes to consider include:

  • Updating their sleep cycle to ensure they receive adequate sleep each night.
  • Balancing out their daily nutrition
  • Increasing physical activity 
  • Boosting positive social interaction 
  • Incorporating more relaxation and self-care through breathing exercises, mindfulness, and calming techniques such as yoga and meditation. 

General anxiety disorder affects millions of Americans each year. Although highly treatable, only about 36% of people seek treatment. If you notice that your child is suddenly experiencing symptoms of GAD, don’t hesitate to get them evaluated. A simple diagnosis could be life-changing for them. To learn more about GAD or schedule an appointment with us, contact us today.