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Anxiety is a commonplace, relatively universal human experience, and children are not

immune. During stressful events, such as a public presentation or a fight with a best friend, the

adolescent body prepares via a faster heartbeat, sweaty palms, and rapid breathing. They

may tremble, stutter, or blush, and while this may be embarrassing to undergo, it is completely

normal and highly beneficial. Most of the time, this response is essential for confrontation or

coping with an issue, and anxiety is usually quick to fade. But for some, these symptoms are

inescapable and unbearable. The heart begins to pound, breathing can escalate to

hyperventilation, and the mind races uncontrollably. These instances are more frequent, the

symptoms become extreme, and simply getting over it is ineffective. In its most severe cases,

childhood anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways and lead to the development of severe

mental illnesses such as social phobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and separation anxiety, all

of which can lead to debilitating consequences in adulthood.

The roots of anxiety have been associated with processes that stir in the amygdala region

of the brain, which is the neurological headquarters for emotion (Harvard Health, 2008, p.2). The

electrical impulses sent by neurons to trigger heightened awareness go haywire, greatly

intensifying the effects and making it difficult to get by. However, no definitive cause of this

condition has been found. Genetics, child temperament, and even the environment can have a

hand in the development of anxiety (Boston Children’s Hospital). With generalized anxiety

disorder, children and teens often have numerous unmanageable thoughts and concerns about a

wide array of startling, sometimes unrealistic possibilities and situations. The overindulgence in

such ideas over long periods of time is the standard for diagnosis, along with feelings of

restlessness, struggling to concentrate, changes in sleeping habits, and many others. In a study

conducted by the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement (qtd. In NIMH, 2017),

almost 32% percent of the interviewed adolescents were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder,

with around 8.3% of the 13-18 year olds severely hindered by their illness . These statistics are

astonishing, but often times anxiety is not recognized by parents and is therefore never diagnosed

properly. If generalized anxiety or any other branch of it is left untreated, children are more

perceptible to future physical and mental harm. It has been shown that anxiety increases a child’s

risk for future heart, respiratory, and stomach diseases (Harvard Health, 2008).

But seeking psychiatric help and receiving support from others can be the most terrifying,

anxiety inducing experience one can have, as it is for adolescents afflicted with social phobia

disorder. Also known as social anxiety, the obsessive fear and worry in this particular subset

typically begins to reveal itself in the teenage years and stems from interactions a child has with

others. Since many people get nervous around people, the signs of social anxiety are usually

passed off and dismissed as shyness, but children with social anxiety are not just reserved

individuals. Underneath the surface, they are faced with and overwhelmed by rampant

self-consciousness, fear of criticism, and constant embarrassment over trivial matters when

participating in social situations (Richards, p.7). The way an adolescent walks, talks,

eats, and even breathes can be humiliating, as they constantly feel they are being watched and

judged for every move they make. These intrusive, magnified negative thoughts and the physical

symptoms that come with them tend to ruin the enjoyment of outings and special occasions, and

eventually lead to complete avoidance of such settings (Lyness, 2013, p.13). But the social

isolation that comes with missing certain events only makes them lonely, depressed, and even

more scared to go out. This greatly inhibits their social skills and promotes the development of

future mental illness, such as depression and possibly suicide. Social anxiety is widespread,

affecting around 12.1% of children according to the National Comorbidity Survey (qtd. in NCBI,

2005, p.1).

However, for some children, it’s the physical estrangement from others, especially from

parents, that creates feelings of nervousness. This is known as separation anxiety, which is most

commonly seen in infants and young toddlers. Similar to social phobia, children with this

disorder fear strange environments filled with unidentifiable people (MedlinePlus, 2016, p.2).

Naturally, they look to their parents for guidance through these places, but when the only

familiar face is nowhere to be found, the child is paralyzed with terror. Nightmares, nausea, and

the desire to sleep in the same room as a parent are all common symptoms of separation anxiety,

and to prevent their guardians from leaving, a baby may cry excessively and a toddler may throw

a temper tantrum, violently kicking and screaming until the parent agrees to stay (Pendley, 2016,

p.1). However, unlike most anxiety disorders, separation anxiety is not always abnormal, and

children usually outgrow their fears in later adolescence. But in rare cases, it can develop into a

disorder that may last for many years (Pendley, 2016, p.23). The crucial factor that prevents this

from happening is the parental response. Psychologists highly recommend patience, early

exposure to different environments that the child will later be acquainted with, and avoiding

daycare until the child is mature enough to handle time away from home (Pendley, 2016).

The last of the discussed anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress, or PTSD, is not usually

associated with adolescents. But contrary to popular belief, adults are not the only ones affected.

Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event is at risk for PTSD, regardless of age. As a

matter of fact, rates of PTSD in American children has reached around 3 to 6% (NCBI).

Kids who are or have been victimized to physical, mental or sexual abuse, involved in an

extreme accident, or witnessed a crime may eventually develop the disorder (CDC, 2016).

Events of this degree are not easy to forget, so reliving the memories and venting about them to

adults can sometimes be too difficult to do. The inner turmoil generates symptoms that are

similar across every generation, with recurring nightmares, irritability, and avoidance of

reminders that may trigger harsh reactions (ADAA, 2015). These responses are not always

conscious, and can be difficult for children, who already emotionally immature and impulsive by

nature, to control. As it does for adults, PTSD can cause rifts in the family and lead to strains in

current and future relationships (ADAA, 2015).

The outlook may seem grim, but if observed and dealt with before the child reaches

adulthood, the better their chances are for overcoming their disorder. There are many treatments

that have proven helpful, including therapy and medication. Two of the most effective are

cognitive behavioral therapy, where therapists work with children to improve upon their coping

skills and rewire their thought process to a more positive and realistic view, and psychodynamic

psychotherapy, which involves examining the past and any unresolved disputes that have

occured in the child life and may be causing or fueling the disorder (Harvard, 2008). In

combination with certain drugs, such as beta blockers and antidepressants, the physical

symptoms of anxiety are reduced, which make it easier for kids to apply what they learn in

therapy and promote recovery (Harvard, 2008). While anxiety might very well last for life, with

the help of adults, children can lead fairly normal lives and handle it more confidently as they

grow.

Post Author: admin