Anxiety is a natural human reaction, and it serves an important biological function: it’s an alarm system that’s activated whenever we perceive danger or a threat. Everyone experiences feelings of anxiety from time to time. Some amount of anxiety is normal and can even be motivating. It helps us stay alert, focused, and ready to do our best. However, when anxiety cannot be controlled and takes the form of extreme stress, it could become a disorder. Anxiety can be experienced in many different ways —physically, emotionally, and in the way people view the world around them.
When the body and mind react, we can feel physical sensations, like dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, and sweaty or shaky hands and feet. A rush of adrenaline causes these sensations called the fight-flight response and other stress hormones that prepare the body to make a quick getaway or “flight” from danger. The fight-flight response happens instantly. But it usually takes a few seconds longer for the thinking part of the brain (the cortex) to process the situation and evaluate whether the threat is real, and if so, how to handle it. When the cortex sends the all-clear signal, the fight-flight response is deactivated and the nervous system starts to calm down.
According to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report, anxiety and depression are treatable. However, 80% of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60% of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment.
Although all kids experience anxiety in certain situations, most (even those who live through traumatic events) don’t develop anxiety disorders. Those who do, however, will seem anxious and have one or more of the following signs:
These problems can affect a child’s day-to-day functioning, especially when it comes to concentrating in school, sleeping, and eating.
Experts don’t know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. Several things seem to play a role, including genetics, brain biochemistry, an overactive fight-flight response, stressful life circumstances, and learned behavior.
Things that happen in a child’s life can set the stage for anxiety disorders in childhood or later in life. Loss (like the death of a loved one or parents’ divorce) and major life transitions (like moving to a new town) are common triggers. Kids with a history of abuse are also more vulnerable to anxiety.
Symptoms of an anxiety disorder can come on suddenly or can build gradually and linger. Kids with anxiety problems may not even know what’s causing the emotions, worries, and sensations they have.
Anxiety disorders that kids can get include:
Mental health counselors can diagnose if your child is suffering from any of the above anxiety disorders. Licensed clinicians are highly trained and qualified to diagnose and treat people with anxiety disorders using techniques based on best available research.
Family psychotherapy can help family members better understand their loved one’s anxiety and learn new ways of interacting that do not reinforce the anxiety and associated dysfunctional behaviors. That’s why trusting an experienced counselor like Jennifer Nahrebeski, who specializes in treating anxiety, can offer comfort to your child and your family. Call Jennifer (716) 432-3656 to start your child’s path to recovery.