Symptoms of an Anxiety Attack in Children

symptoms of anxiety disorder in childrenContrary to popular belief, adults are not the only ones that can experience an anxiety attack – children can also suffer from them. In fact, it is common for a child to experience an anxiety attack during a particularly stressful time (i.e. moving to another state, losing a loved one, friend or pet, changing schools, being separated from a caretaker or parent, developing an illness, witnessing a violent or traumatic event, etc.). It is important to note that symptoms of an anxiety attack may not manifest the same way in all children. Moreover, the first attack may occur while participating in a sport, performing on stage, reciting a poem in front of the class, talking to a group, quietly sitting in class or playing with toys at home. In other words, an anxiety attack can occur at any time.

During an anxiety attack, children may feel an overwhelming sense of fear. They may obsess and worry about their academic performance, friendships, romantic relationships, athletic performance, appearance, etc.  If you are aware of children that are experiencing repeated anxiety attacks or if the attacks interfere with their ability to function, it may be time to get them evaluated by a licensed mental health professional. If you are wondering how to identify the symptoms of an anxiety attack in children – you have come to the right place. This article will help you better understand how anxiety attack symptoms manifest in children.

Listed below are some common symptoms of an anxiety attack in children:

  • Intense Fear

During an anxiety attack, children may experience overwhelming and unexplained feelings of intense fear. These feelings may be unwarranted, but paralyzing to the children nonetheless. In addition, these children may feel that they are dying or that someone close to them is about to die. The children may also be terrified of losing a loved one, friend , pet or being injured in a horrible accident. Moreover, these children may fear that they are losing control of their life. In some cases, the children may develop suicidal tendencies or believe that they are losing their mind. In severe cases, the children may feel as if they are detached from reality.  It is important to note that most of the time these fears are irrational, but to the child they are real.

  • Tremors 

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety attacks in children is tremors. During an anxiety attack, it is not uncommon for a child to experience tremors (shakiness, trembling, etc.). These tremors alert the children that something does not feel “right” or that there may be danger ahead. Moreover, during this time, there may be a reduction of blood flow throughout the children’s body, causing them to experience chills.

  • Accelerated Heart Rate 

During an anxiety attack, children may experience an accelerated (rapid) heart rate. This occurs when the brain sends a signal to the heart that there is impending danger. The heart then begins to pound, race and in some cases skip beats. The purpose of the accelerated heart rate is to prompt the children to flee the situation. To the children the racing heart beat may make them feel as if they are in a terrifying or dangerous situation (i.e. a car accident) even though they are safe at home or school.

  • Breathing Difficulties

During the middle of an anxiety attack, children may experience breathing difficulties. This occurs when children’s brain sends a message to their body that more oxygen is needed to help them flee a stressful, traumatic or dangerous situation. In other words, when the children experience an anxiety attack, the fear causes their brain to believe that that a dangerous situation is occurring even when they are safe. The children’s brain then signals to their body that it needs more oxygen, which causes the children to take rapid, shallow breaths as a way to increase their oxygen intake.

  • Dizziness

Another one of the symptoms of an anxiety attack in children is dizziness.  It is common for a child to experience dizziness, confusion and disorientation during an anxiety attack. This occurs when the fear causes the children’s body to increase its supply of oxygen to their muscles, which leads to a decrease in the amount of oxygen transported to their brain. The lack of oxygen can cause the children to become lightheaded and dizzy. If the children’s brain does not receive oxygen for a long period of time, they may faint or lapse into a coma.

  • Gastrointestinal Distress

This may come as a surprise, but children may experience gastrointestinal distress (i.e. stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting) during an anxiety attack. When the children become deathly afraid of something or someone, their abdominal muscles may tightly contract causing an upset stomach (i.e. urgent need to defecate, stomach pain and tightness, etc.). This distress normally subsides once the attack has ended.

  • Swallowing Difficulties

Symptoms of an anxiety attack in children may include swallowing difficulties. This occurs when  children’s abdominal muscles contract and their digestive system is disturbed. During the midst of an anxiety attack, the children may experience an extremely dry, sore throat. Moreover, the muscles in the throat may involuntarily contract making it hard for the children to swallow. These children may complain that they feel as if they are choking. In addition, the inability to swallow may cause the children to hyperventilate, perspire excessively, shiver uncontrollably or experience headaches, hot flashes, chest pains/tightness, red, blotchy skin, a pins and needles sensation and heart palpitations.

***It is important to note that children who exhibit anxiety attack symptoms should be examined by a trained mental health professional who can teach them how to manage and/or improve their condition.

References:

Anxiety Centre. (2014). Anxiety attack symptoms. Retrieved from   http://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-attack-symptoms.shtml

Smith, M., Robinson, L. & and Segal, J. (2014).  Anxiety attacks & anxiety disorders.       Helpguide.org. Retrieved from    http://helpguide.org/mental/anxiety_types_symptoms_treatment.htm

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