Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children

GAD in childrenDoes your child constantly worry about things that are probably not going to happen? Does your child feel anxious, apprehensive and tense the majority of the day, for no real reason at all? If the answer is “yes” then there is a possibility that your child is suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

It is normal to experience mild anxiety from time-to-time, but if the worries, fears and concerns interfere with your child’s ability to function at home and at school, it may be time to see a child psychologist or pediatric psychiatrist.

Generalized anxiety disorder is a common anxiety disorder that is characterized by persistent or reoccurring nervousness, fear, worry and tension. This condition is different from a phobia because a phobia is connected to a specific stimulus (i.e. object, person, place, situation, animal, etc.), while generalized anxiety disorder is somewhat vague and indistinguishable. In other words, the feelings associated with this anxiety disorder are hard to identify or explain, but they provoke a sense of “doom & gloom” and dread that affects every part of a child’s life.

It is important to note that children with this condition worry about the same things (i.e. school, friends, grades, parents, appearance, etc.) that other children worry about; the difference is that children with generalized anxiety disorder take their worries to another level. In other words, they worry excessively and are unable to stop.

This condition is both mentally and physically draining. It interferes with their ability to make friends, engage in “normal” childhood activities, sleep, eat, and “just be a kid.” It wears on their minds and bodies until they are merely a shell of their former selves. The good news is that these children can break free from the restraints of generalized anxiety disorder and learn effective ways to calm their anxious and fearful minds.

Symptoms

It is important to note that generalized anxiety disorder symptoms fluctuate. In other words, the symptoms may disappear, only to reemerge at a future time. Moreover, children with this disorder may seem worse or better at different times of the day or week. In addition, stress, poor eating habits, a sedentary lifestyle and a lack of sleep can trigger or aggravate their condition. Furthermore, not all children with generalized anxiety disorder exhibit the same symptoms.

Some of the issues that may plague children with generalized anxiety disorder include: social acceptance (i.e. friends), future events, family dynamics/function, academic performance, appearance, past experiences or personal capabilities. Unlike adults with this disorder, adolescents (i.e. children and teens) may not realize that their fears and worries are illogical, extreme or unreasonable, so it is important that you pay close attention to their behaviors, if you suspect that they may have an anxiety disorder.

Common Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD):

  • Continuously worrying and/or obsessing over important and insignificant issues
  • Restlessness, jumpiness and/or edginess
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of “doom & gloom,” dread and/or impending tragedy
  • A racing mind that will not slow down or shut off.
  • Trouble concentrating on tasks and/or assignments
  • Lapses in mental clarity and/or confusion
  • Phobic avoidance or deliberately avoiding situations, places or people that cause fear, worry and/or anxiety
  • Negative, unhealthy and/or intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety
  • Uncontrollable anxiety
  • Inability to be alone, relax and/or enjoy “quiet time”
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension, muscle cramps, and/or muscle aches
  • Shakiness and/or a feeling of being startled
  • Sleep difficulties (i.e. oversleeping or insomnia)
  • Excessive perspiration (i.e. sweating)
  • Stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Breathing difficulties (i.e. shortness of breath) and/or an accelerated heart rate. 

Generalized Anxiety Disorder Symptoms Specific to Children

  • The need to always be on time (i.e. punctuality)
  • The fear of natural disasters (i.e. tornados, tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, hurricanes, etc.)
  • An obsession with “doom & gloom” what if scenarios
  • A desperate need to be liked by peers (i.e. approval and acceptance)
  • Perfectionism (i.e. the need to be perfect all of the time)
  • Low self-confidence and self-esteem
  • The constant need to be reassured of your value, appearance, likability and/or performance.
  • Self-blaming and/or an overwhelming fear of being judged
  • A belief that you are the reason bad things happen and that there is nothing you can do to stop them 

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

References: 

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Generalized anxiety disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-  disorder/basics/symptoms/CON-20024562

Smith, M. & Segal, J. (2014). Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Helpguide.org. Retrieved       from http://www.helpguide.org/mental/generalized_anxiety_disorder.htm

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