5 Telltale Signs Your Child is Suffering From Anxiety

Generally, adults are well acquainted with what anxiety feels like. To shift into “fight or flight” mode is a natural and fairly common occurrence in our chaotic lives. Thus, you’ve likely learned to recognize the effects of stress on your mind and body while finding ways to cope effectively.

Perhaps you breathe deeply and process whether the threat is real. Or, you literally tell yourself to calm down when things feel out of control. Maybe you even use mindfulness meditation to help tame your fear and worry.

How about your child? Do you have a sense that they know how to cope with their anxiety as adeptly?

Child Anxiety is Trending Up

It’s important to recognize that many children simply don’t know how to manage their fear productively. They are often without the vocabulary, life experiences, and resources that adults readily employ. In these challenging times, your child may be struggling with all kinds of worries, big and/or small.

Moreover, childhood anxiety is becoming more and more common. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently published a study in the American Medical Association’s journal JAMA Pediatrics. It reports that the number of children (ages 3 to 17 years old) dealing with anxiety increased by nearly 30 percent between 2016 and 2020.

Many children need support. Learning to look deeper at how your child functions in their daily routines and how they interact with others can offer clues about their anxiety levels.

Not sure what to look for? Not to worry. Five of the most common signs include the following:

1. Physical Discomfort:

What this looks like:

  • sleeping problems
  • unspecific illness
  • physical tension shortness of breath
  • stomach, headaches, and generally feeling sick

Why this happens: anxiety can cause physical symptoms to occur as your child struggles to articulate their fears or cope with their worries. Moreover, if your child has voiced their concerns but feels misunderstood or dismissed, they may consciously or unconsciously seek support or escape from anxiety by complaining about physical issues instead. This could look like, wanting to stay home from school complaining of a stomach ache. Or, alternatively, going to the nurse’s office at school complaining of feeling sick but really their physical symptoms are related to school stress.

2. Emotional Dysregulation:

What this looks like:

  • persistent worrying
  • what-ifs, catastrophizing
  • seeking constant reassurance, preparation, or control
  • internal overreaction to uncertainty, perceived risks, or danger

Why this happens: often, children have more difficulty discerning the meaning of emotionally-charged circumstances without support. So, their compromised ability to self-soothe and challenge their anxious thoughts can get in the way of appropriate emotional responses.

3. Behavioral Difficulties:

What this looks like:

  • fidgeting
  • constant movement
  • tantrums/meltdowns
  • oppositional/defiant behavior

Why this happens: COVID-19 and all of its fallout exacerbated an existing rise in anxiety among children. The aforementioned JAMA study revealed that from 2019 to 2020, there was a 21 percent rise in children with behavior or conduct problems. Children escape disturbing triggers or confront anxiety-inducing situations the best way they can. This sometimes means they become reactive, hyperactive, rebellious, and/or aggressive as they try to deal with the impact of anxiety on their nervous systems.

4. Relational Disconnect:

What this looks like:

  • aggressive or accusatory interactions
  • easily offended or hurt by others’ behavior
  • frequently angered or retaliatory, acting out towards family, schoolmates
  • disobedient towards teachers, coaches, or community members
  • fearful about reaching out to others, inordinately “shy”
  • socially withdrawn, expresses that they are left out, unwanted.
  • confusion or lack of awareness as to the effect their anxiety has on others

Why this happens: an inability to voice concerns and communicate clearly can lead to frustration. A child may feel let down, unprotected, misunderstood, or afraid of abandonment. Kids may also be unsure of how to relate if they’ve been told to toughen up, “grow up,” or be less “dramatic.” They may be angry if they feel unheard. They may be clingy if they fear their anxiety causes others to abandon them.

5. Cognitive Challenges:

What this looks like:

  • difficulty paying attention
  • trouble planning ahead
  • difficulty recalling events or assignments
  • challenges with problem-solving

Why this happens: anxiety keeps your child’s brain steeped in emotion and reaction. Unaddressed, this anxious state can override the higher functioning of their brain. Unable to adequately calm down, fear and worry will have a greater impact on the way your child processes new information, comprehends it, problem solves, and communicates it to others.

How You Can Help

Allowing and encouraging your child to accept and fully feel their feelings is key. From there, you can work together to address their fears openly and without judgment. Mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and grounding techniques are helpful. Physical exercise, proper diet, and hydration, as well as, creative activities or journaling can be productive support.

In addition to these strategies just mentioned, your child may benefit from spending time with an experienced therapist. Someone who can easily connect with your child and recognize the exact supports your child needs is a game-changer for your child and family.

Together, you and your therapist can help your child build coping skills, learn to manage uncertainty, and grow in their acceptance of themselves and life as it is without trying to avoid or control situations.

I am here to help guide you and your family. Please read more about our anxiety treatment and contact us soon for support. We look forward to connecting with you soon.

Be well,

Dr. G

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