By: Mary B. Hammock, MSN, CPNP
Anxiety is a normal part of life, even for children. Stress and mild anxiety are motivating. It helps one to meet deadlines, study for exams, and make goals. Anxiety comes in phases and the phases are generally temporary and harmless. Children who struggle with significant anxiety may experience fear, nervousness, or extreme shyness and may start to avoid people, places or activities. There are multiple types of anxiety disorders. If anxiety begins to take over your child, there are several strategies that can help improve their quality of life.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is described as a condition of excessive worry about a large variety of things, such as grades, family issues, relationships, and performance in sports and /or extracurricular activities. A perfectionist, type A personality, someone that is his or her own worst critic, is most likely to experience GAD.
Another form of anxiety that can be frightening and severe is called a Panic Disorder. A panic episode is sudden in onset and unexpected and involves symptoms of panic, difficulty breathing, feelings of dread or even demise. Two episodes must occur to be diagnosed with panic disorder and every episode is usually followed by an intense fear over having another attack or losing control.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder is defined as excessive anxiety when away from home or when separated from caregivers. Separation anxiety is common and normal between 9 months of age and three years of age. Separation Anxiety Disorder generally affects children ages 7-9 years of age and about 4% of the pediatric population.
Social Anxiety Disorder
An intense fear of social and performance situations, such as public speaking or being called on in class, is called Social Anxiety Disorder. This type of anxiety can interfere with your child’s attendance at school or sabotage his or her ability to develop and maintain personal relationships.
Children who refuse to speak in social situations where talking is expected or necessary may suffer from Selective Mutism. These children are typically 5 years old and may turn his or her head, avoid eye contact, chew or twirl hair, or withdraw into corner to avoid talking.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is described as unwanted and intrusive thoughts and the feeling that one must repeatedly perform rituals and routines in an attempt to ease anxiety, such as turning the lights on and off 3 times or stepping over every 6th tile. OCD can show itself in children as young as 2 years of age with most children suffering diagnosed around 10 years of age.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Those who directly witness a traumatic event, suffered mental health issues prior to the traumatic event, and those who lack a strong support system are at risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Those who suffer PTSD may have intense fear and anxiety, may become easily irritable, or avoid places, people, or certain activities.
Strategy For Help
There are many strategies to help manage anxiety. For children, it is extremely important to maintain a schedule and routine. Wake them, feed them, bathe them and put them to bed on a regular schedule. Keeping a calendar on the refrigerator listing the day’s activities should be helpful in communicating and reducing the anxiety of simply not knowing what comes next. Other tips to teach your children to reduce anxiety include:
- Eating a well-balanced meal: Keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand and don’t allow your child to skip meals.
- Limit caffeine: Caffeine can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep: When stressed, one’s body needs additional sleep and rest.
- Exercise daily: For best benefits, alternate moderate and vigorous-intensity exercises at least every other day.
- Take a time-out: Learn relaxation techniques and step back from the problem to clear one’s mind.
- Take deep breaths and count to 10: Inhale and exhale slowly and count slowly. Repeat as necessary.
- Do your best and maintain a positive attitude: Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of who and what you have.
- Try to accept that you cannot control everything: Put your life and stresses in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Learn what your triggers are: Sometimes it is obvious and other times, it is not so obvious. Keep a journal and write when feelings of stress and anxiety arise and look for a pattern in your writing.
- Talk to someone: Tell friends and family how you are feeling. Let them know when and how they can help you. It may be necessary to talk to a healthcare provider and/or a therapist for professional help.
Mild anxiety can be helpful, while moderate to severe anxiety can be detrimental to one’s health, well-being and relationships. The first goal is to recognize anxiety and the second goal is to overcome the anxiety to lead a confident and rewarding lifestyle. If you have concerns about your child’s anxiety, please call 678-384-3480 for an appointment. Healthy Steps Pediatrics is helping to GROW healthy children one step at a time.