Mental Health » Anxiety


What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal, healthy part of life. Anxiety is a typical reaction to stressful situations and alerts us to possible danger. However, when one feels excessive anxiety for several weeks or months and it begins to interfere with daily life, there may be a problem that needs to be addressed. The core symptoms of anxiety are worry, difficulty tolerating uncertainty, an overactive response to perceived threats (including freezing), and avoidance. Some children avoid or become overly afraid of situations or objects that trigger fears, while others react with explosive fear and frustration. That behavior is often misread as anger or opposition. In youth with phobias or social anxiety disorder, their difficulties may be attributed to “shyness,” with few people recognizing the severe distress they experience. Many young people don’t realize that their overwhelming reactions may stem from a disorder that can be treated, rather than from a personal failing.
An anxiety disorder is treatable. With the appropriate treatment and support, people can learn to reduce and manage the symptoms of an anxiety disorder and function well in their daily lives.
When a child does not outgrow the fears and worries that are typical in young children, or when so many fears and worries interfere with school, home, or play activities, the child may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Examples of different types of anxiety disorders include
  • Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)
  • Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)
  • Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)
  • Being very worried about the future and bad things happening (general anxiety)
  • Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)
  • Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry.

Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.

Signs of Anxiety

The following are the major thinking/learning, behavioral, and physical signs of anxiety. Not all children will show all signs or show the same signs to the same degree, but a stable pattern that interferes with performance may be cause for concern. Anxiety has many symptoms and can look very different from child to child and youth to youth. Here are some common signs to look out for:
  • Concentration problems
  • Memory problems
  • Attention problems
  • Problem-solving difficulties
  • Worry 
  • Restlessness
  • Fidgeting
  • Task avoidance
  • Rapid speech
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of participation
  • Failing to complete tasks
  • Seeing easy tasks
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Perspiration 
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleeping problems
  • Nausea

School & Home-based Interventions

School-Based Interventions
  • Establish predictable routines
  • Set clear and reasonable expectations
  • Break tasks into manageable units
  • Have specific evaluation criteria
  • Provide opportunities for practice and rehearsal
  • Pair anxious students with confident peers
  • Provide special responsibilities
  • Provide a safe space to relax when anxiety becomes high (Calm Corner/ Wellness Center)
  • Reduce or avoid unexpected situations
  • Avoid punitive and negative attitudes
  • Reduce time constraints, if possible
  • Move the student to a quiet setting with fewer distractions
  • Check your biases (be aware of their preconceptions and prejudices and actively try to put them aside when entering a situation where they might influence their perception or judgment.)
Home-Based Interventions
  • Be consistent in how you handle problems and administer discipline
  • Be patient and be prepared to listen 
  • Avoid being overly critical, disparaging, impatient, or cynical
  • Maintain realistic attainable goals and expectations for your child
  • Do not communicate that perfection is expected
  • Maintain consistent but flexible routines for homework, chores, activities, etc
  • Accept that mistakes are a normal part of growing up and that no one is expected to do everything equally well
  • Teach your child simple strategies to help with anxiety, such as organizing materials and time, developing small scripts of what to do and say to himself or herself when anxiety increases, and learning how to relax under stressful conditions
  • Do not treat feelings, questions, and statements about feeling anxious as silly or unimportant
  • Often, reasoning is not effective in reducing anxiety. Do not criticize your child for not being able to respond to rational approaches
  • Seek outside help if the problem persists and continues to interfere with daily activities.
If you need further information, please contact your child's physician or your child's school. For middle or high school students, contact your school's social worker or counselor's office. For elementary students, contact the school's social worker or main office. 
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