Anxiety is a normal response to a threat and sometimes it’s good for us. It helps to keep us alert when we are about to take a test or do something new. Most children go through times when they feel very frightened about things and the pandemic has created much stress for everyone. Even though feeling anxious is a normal part of growing up and many children grow through their fears. However, for some children, it grows into a disorder. I hope this blog will offer some information on the symptoms of a Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
The Research on Anxiety
Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in children. Hence, it doesn’t distinguish between age, background, or social group. In 2017, 3.9% of 5-10 year old children had an anxiety disorder, as did 7.5% of 11-16 year olds and 13.1% of 17-19 year olds (Ref: https://mhfaengland.org).
We are already seeing that the stress of the pandemic is having a particularly large impact on the mental health of young people (aged 16-24). Stress and uncertainty around education and employment prospects and reduced social support from peers are added to existing higher levels of depression and anxiety. ( The MQMental Health Research). I have received many referrals regarding anxiety this year, as a consequence, I wanted to focus on what is GAD and what is normal anxiety. You can click here for my blogs on OCD, Separation Anxiety, and Social Anxiety Disorder for further information.
What is GAD ( Generalised Anxiety Disorder)?
Children with GAD can worry just about everything and anything, the worry is often chronic, long-lasting, and hard to control. The difference between normal feelings of anxiety and the presence of generalized anxiety disorder is that children with GAD worry more often and more intensely than other children in the same circumstances. Another key distinguishing factor in GAD is that the anxiety is focused not on external triggers like social interaction or contamination, but internally. Children with GAD tend to seek frequent reassurance from caregivers, teachers, and peers, about their performance, although this reassurance only provides a fleeting relief from their worries.
GAD emerges before and during adolescence and is more prevalent in girls than boys. The teen brain’s rapidly growing connections carry some negative side effects. About 70% of mental illnesses, including anxiety, mood and eating disorders, and psychosis, appear in early adolescence. I am passionate about preventing mental health issues. If you are interested in learning about anxiety in your tween and teenager, join me at my new parent webinar Let’s Stop the Worry Cycle in Tweens and Teens.
Children with learning and special education needs are at an increased risk of Anxiety Disorders. It is well established that the prevalence of anxiety in youth with ASD is significantly greater than the prevalence of anxiety in the general population. It ranges from 22 to 84%, highest anxiety disorder was social phobia ( 47% and then GAD 29.9%).
Sometimes, anxiety can occur independently of ADHD. Other times, it can be a result of living with ADHD. Children with ADHD often have more trouble managing stress than children who don’t have ADHD. That’s because ADHD affects how children manage their emotions.
Anxiety affects our thoughts, behaviour, our body, and our emotions
The amygdala can trigger in less than 1/10 of a second, this triggers a physical response. Our brains and guts are intimately connected by our vagus nerve. The threat response can send signals directly from the brain to the gut via the vagus nerve, causing tummy trouble. Anxiety can also influence the gastrointestinal tract to move in ways that cause pain.
- Lots of butterflies and stomach aches.
- Heart palpitations.
- Problems in breathing.
- Excessive Sweating.
- Suffer from sleep difficulties, especially being able to get off to sleep.
Anxiety affects thinking
Anxiety is always anticipating for future, your child may use lots of “what if questions”.?
Will we get there on time? What if I can’t fall asleep the night before the test?
You may also notice negative thinking patterns ” cognitive distortions”. Sometimes they can be referred to as challenging thoughts, and even thinking mistakes or errors. They are often unrealistic but above all and are overly self-critical. Unlike adults, children are unable to realise that the thoughts are outsized and unrealistic.
Other behaviour you may notice:
- They ask you lots of questions and details of new situations and constantly check with you.
- They eavesdrop on your conversations and want to know what’s going to happen.
- Look over your shoulder and check what you are doing.
- Extreme studying or practicing.
- They may hold on to situations or events that have occurred, even though they occurred days ago. For example, upsetting a friend or getting something wrong in class.
- They may fear making mistakes and seem perfectionistic.
- They may stop going to groups/sports if they don’t feel they are good enough.
Why do we suffer from Anxiety?
We do not really know what causes this illness. However several things can contribute to their anxiety, like genes, where they live, having upsetting or traumatic experiences. It tends to run in families. Hence, if someone in your family is known to worry a lot, they may be more likely to worry as well. Some of this will be passed on in the genes, but they may also ‘learn’ anxious behaviour from the environment.
When to seek help
I know many parents and children who do not seek help to manage the anxiety and many adults suffer most of their life. Let’s stop the worry cycle now!.
Seek help if the anxiety is beyond your child’s or teenager’s control and is excessive. In addition, It is focussed on a number of different activities. As a consequence causes significant distress and is present for more days than not. In addition, the duration is for at least six months. In the first instance, you can seek help from your GP and they may advise on a referral to CAMHS or contact me for a consultation. Treatment should include help for you as a family and child. Children really need your help in managing the anxiety.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your commitment to the wellbeing of your child and your family. In addition, your willingness to keep growing and holding hope. Remember: parenting is hard work and you all deserve support. And when it all starts to feel impossible, ask for help. If you need help and support contact me for a consultation or do join my newsletter community. With Gratitude Catherine