Generalized Anxiety (GAD) Rob Shapiro
Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents
A Benchmark for Children and Anxiety
It is normal for children – just like adults – to experience feelings of anxiety. It becomes a problem if the anxiety reaches a point that it interferes with a child’s ability to attend school, spend time with friends, sleep through the night or spend time away from his or her parents.
This article covers three common Anxiety Disorders: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Separation Anxiety Disorder. Each is slightly different, but all are characterized by irrational fear and distress.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
Children or adolescents who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder feel gripped by excessive and uncontrollable worry. These feelings can trigger physical ailments such as headache, muscular tension, restlessness, heart palpitations and stomach upset.
The causes are as different as the children and adolescents themselves, but often are traced to school performance, sporting events, personal safety and the safety of their family members.
Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are often overly self-critical and avoid activities in which they feel they may not be able to perform to perfection. They also tend to seek frequent reassurance from caregivers, teachers and others. Unfortunately, such reassurance provides only fleeting relief from their worries.
It can be difficult for parents to know how to identify Generalized Anxiety Disorder in their child and how to separate it from normal Anxiety. But the disorder is often marked by duration; chronic, excessive worry that lasts a minimum of six months is often a sign of Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
Although any term that includes the word “disorder” is bound to trigger worry in parents, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is rather common among children and adolescents as they navigate the sometimes difficult terrain of growing up and maturing. It begins gradually, often in childhood or adolescence, with symptoms that may worsen during times of stress.
If left untreated, the disorder can be chronic and predicative of adulthood Anxiety and Depression. This is why early identification and effective management is vital; it can help reduce the severity of symptoms. Psychotherapeutic approaches, including Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, are among the most researched and promising treatments for Childhood Anxiety. In certain instances, a therapist may recommend medication in combination with psychotherapy.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is characterized by an acute stress response after exposure to an extremely traumatic event. Symptoms usually persist for at least one month and include: avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma, emotional numbing, re-experiencing the trauma through recollections of the event in dreams or nightmares, difficulty sleeping, hyper-vigilance, irritability and impaired concentration. PTSD often exists concurrently with depression and anxiety.
Separation anxiety is characterized by excessive distress when a child is about to separate from home or from his or her parents or caretakers. Children with separation anxiety worry about being harmed – or their parents being harmed – in some way. They also can have difficulty sleeping and be plagued by frequent nightmares. It is common for these children to complain of headaches or stomach upset when they know that a separation is on the horizon. Some children are reluctant or refuse to go to school or spend time with friends if a parent or other “safe” adult is not nearby.
Separation anxiety can affect a child’s academic and social development. It also can affect the equilibrium of family life if left untreated.