The definition of anxiety is: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Anxiety is there to keep us from danger. It is a built-in self-protection mechanism that every human has.There is nothing wrong with experiencing the feeling of anxiety; it is how we react to those feelings that can lead to harm or unhealthy behaviors.
What does anxiety look like in children?
These are some examples but anxiety can present in many, many other ways.
- Clinging/separation anxiety
- avoidance of people/places or things (which can often look like refusing to go/do what is expected)
- regression (bedwetting, thumb sucking, baby-talk)
- tics, or unusual kinetic movements
- increased sensory seeking behaviors
- shutting down
- rapid talk/increased inquisitiveness, or reassurance seeking
- selective mutism
- lack of concentration/inattentiveness
- increased somatic complaints
- difficulties with transitions
- sleep disruptions
What is a protective level of anxiety and what is a problematic level?
The anxiety is considered to be a problem when it affects the child’s daily functioning. There will be many times throughout a child’s life that anxiety will increase due to life events and this is not to be a concern unless it becomes chronic. Some diagnoses require at least 4 weeks of ongoing symptoms and others at least 6 months.
Causes of anxiety
- Trauma: disasters, accidents, abuse etc but also medical procedures, community violence, death of a loved one-person or pet, a move, witnessing violence
- Learned behaviors: children pick up cues from the adults in their lives and learn how to manage their feelings by modeling what they see
- Genetic predisposition; including sensory sensitivities
When do you know that your child needs professional help?
When the anxiety is affecting the daily functioning of the child and/or the family for a few weeks and is not the result of a situation that one would expect anxiety to increase. In addition, if the heightened anxiety continues after the situation has resolved, professional attention may be warranted.