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Medical News Today defines anxiety as, "a normal and often healthy emotion. However, when a person regularly feels disproportionate levels of anxiety, it might become a medical disorder. Anxiety disorders form a category of mental health diagnoses that lead to excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry." Unfortunately, the older your child gets the more likely he or she is to develop this disorder. At the last estimation, nearly a quarter of kids between the ages of 13 and 18 experienced symptoms of anxiety more severe than normal.
So what does anxiety in the young look like? That can be a complicated question to find answers to. Mostly, this is because children are still developing, changing. Every child, as they grow, goes through phases which can be punctuated with more worry than others. However, one main sign of a child experiencing the symptoms of disordering thinking vs. normal youthful moods is an inability to be comforted by parents, familiar environments, or anything else. Below, you'll find some other signs of anxiety in children. If, after reading this, you are concerned that your child may be experiencing anxiety, call a doctor for medical examination.
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Eating disorders and anxiety occur together pretty commonly. In fact, Eating Disorder Hope states that, "some researchers, citing a shared genetic and behavioral link between anorexia nervosa and anxiety, have hinted the eating disorder may be better classified as an anxiety disorder." If your child is constantly refusing food despite being offered various options or favorites, has suddenly seemed obsessed with calories or amounts, or exercises purposefully and constantly this could be a sign of anxiousness or disordered eating. Keep in mind that feelings of anxiety often come first, raising red flags for unhealthy food related behaviors later.
Anxiety of an anticipatory nature (think of worrying about a big speech coming up or an assignment due in the next few days), causes some children to seek relief by pulling on and even out their own hair. Sometimes it's overt. Other times, it's barely detectable since people learn to hide the behavior. If bald spots are popping up on your child, or you're seeing him/her pulling on odd areas like eyelashes or eyebrows, this could be a sign of anxious hair pulling. This symptom is called trichotillomania. A sign that your child isn't just going through one of childhood's many...bizarre...phases is that, even with prompting, the child cannot stop. Also, if your child expresses a sense of satisfaction after ripping a follicle out, that's also an indicator that something deeper is happening.
Called mysophobia, a fear of germs or illness can become consuming when caused by anxiety. In fact, for kids whose parents or close family members experience anxiety or depression, they're at higher risk for developing phobias in general. Mysophobia is a specific expression of anxiety, and for many people experiencing it, it affects the way they interact with the world. It can manifest as repetitive and unnecessary hand washing. It also shows up as an avoidance of physical contact or contact with perceived dirty surfaces. Let's face it. Kids are kinda gross normally (booger picking, butt itching, gross). So if a kid refuses to get messy, it should be noticeable.
Chest pain can be a sign of a panic attack, a severe manifestation of anxiety. It's especially scary when a child complains of chest pain, as immediately a hundred possibilities spring into a parent's mind. Tell a doctor right away if your child is complaining about chest pain or, if after a bout of it, has lingering fear of experiencing a similar episode for weeks following. That worrying about a relapse is another red flag that may indicate an anxiety disorder. Medical News Today says about this symptom, "anxiety chest pain tends to develop quickly and then fade somewhat rapidly, often within 10 minutes."
Anytime we talk about dreams and the causes behind them, there's murky information. Science is still trying to fully understand what causes the feelings and images in dreams to appear as they do. This is especially difficult in children, because the rapid changes in their bodies and minds mean some nightmares are pretty much inevitable. Yet, if a kid experiencing persistent bad dreams to the point that they fear sleep or frequently wake from nightmares, this can be sign of daytime anxiety. Anxiety nightmares, "are different than panic attacks in that they occur during a severe nightmare and often involve screaming, thrashing movements, and crying. A person experiencing night terrors is often unaware of their symptoms, which subside once they awaken," according to Very Well Mind.
While no one likes feeling like everyone is looking at them and judging, most people can self sooth their own worries. It doesn't stop them from going to see a favorite band or from delivering that speech assignment. However, kids with anxiety may not be able to accomplish that self soothing. Instead, they may dread social situations, particularly ones that will cause them to share in any limelight. In extreme cases, this pervasive dread can turn into selective mutism as a child settles on it as an unhealthy coping mechanism. And, despite Jessa Duggar's best advice, anxiety like this cannot just be prayed away.
Almost no one enjoys getting up early, putting on regular clothes, and heading to either school or work. And, if you do, you're either A) not a human or B) not a human I can trust. However, if every morning with your child is extremely difficult, this could be a sign of anxiety. If it seems like the idea of facing the day and the educational as well as social hurdles therein is overwhelming to your kid, this is a good indicator that you may want to discuss this with a doctor. So where is the line? Dr. Dawn Huebner says that, if your child is still clinging to you and crying after several weeks of school, if the anxious behavior in the morning like stomach aches becomes routine, it's time to seek help.
Not only is muscle tension common in people who suffer from anxiety, it is likely. It can be present in the neck, back, and even stomach of a kiddo experiencing anxiety. Remember that all people experience muscle tension, specifically while facing trials in their personal lives. Kids do have growing pains. They fall. They push their growing muscles too far. However, if your child frequently complains of a recurring pain or fears the pain itself, this can be a red flag for anxiety. The good news is this symptom can be easily treated in most people. Hot showers and massages can help alleviate the physical pain.
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Like so many other symptoms on this list, experiencing some headaches is normal. Yet, chronic persistent headaches can be worrisome. In fact, it's been found that people who experience migraines before exhibiting symptoms of anxiety are at a much higher risk to develop those symptoms later. Also, headaches related to muscle contractions are considered "stress headaches." Nothing causes stress like being in the grips of anxiety for long stretches. While there are many reasons your kiddo could have recurring headaches, talking to a doctor to rule out anxiety can be a good first step.
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There's a scale to this. Some kids feel nauseous, a 'butterflies in the tummy' sensation. Others are struck with the dry heaves. More severely, some kids experience vomiting and diarrhea. For a child, the high levels of stress caused by anxiety put their little bodies in crisis mode. They experience the most base fight or flight instincts. If you child has frequent stomach issues but no other signs of cold, cough, or flu, this could point toward anxiety. If your child also experiences a sensation of dread about their stomach issues, that's another indicator it could be time to have your child assessed for an anxiety disorder.
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It's a truly scary symptom. For those people who experience panic attacks as part of their anxiety disorder, having a lack of feeling or control in their hands, feet, and other extremities happens fairly regularly (although nothing feels 'regular' about it). Even worse than that, numbness can strike in the face. For others, the symptom manifests more as tingling. Remember the best thing for your child if something as traumatic as this happens is for you to stay calm, seek help quickly, and try not to increase his/her stress level. Both you and the kiddo may have to consult with a doctor to develop coping mechanisms in this situation.
Kids assign different value to things than adults. Any mom whose kid refuses to throw that candy wrapper away because the treat came from a friend knows this. Yet, if your child hoards things and assigns a special meaning to them there could be an underlying problem. Think of it this way- if your child refuses to let you throw away birthday cards out of fear something terrible will happen to the giver if you do, there's a chance this perceived connection could point to anxiety. If your child cannot part with the most minimal of things on a frequent basis, think about reaching out for help.
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It's unclear which causes which. Does stress cause difficult falling or staying asleep which leads to fatigue or does fatigue increase stress and cause these difficulties? Doctors are still looking into this. However, people with anxiety often struggle to feel energized and present during the day. They complain of feeling tired and struggling to focus. Like many symptoms on this list, chronic fatigue is both a sign of anxiety and a part of many other illnesses. It's best to let a doctor help you pin down the cause of a reliably sleepy kid. Know too that kids experiencing growth spurts often need more sleep.
High levels of stress effect hormones in the body. For some, this leads to a higher likelihood of experiencing acid reflux like symptoms. These include dry mouth, bad breath, and a sticky feeling within the mouth. This symptom can persist even in people who have their anxiety treated with medication, as it's a common side effect from those too. Calm Clinic gives another example of how anxiety can cause dry mouth saying, "When your fight or fight system is activated, your body make take fluids - like saliva and water - and move them to the areas they feel need them more. That may dry out your mouth as well."
While kids are supposed to be chalk full of questions, most shouldn't focus on something dark. If a child seems to constantly be worried about something terrible happening to them, to you, or to someone else they love there may be cause for concern. Kids with anxiety tend to ask questions that exhibit that fear. They may ask, "What will happen if you die...if a tornado hits...if I step in front of a car..." and your answer can seem vitally important to them. If you're having trouble reassuring your child that the world isn't a mostly good place or that you're there looking out for his/her best interests, this is a sign that you may need a doctor's opinion.
I've always thought being a kid must be super hard. Yeah, they get to not deal with bills or making life altering decisions for other people (like parents have to every day), but they're also expected to cram their heads with new information on the reg. In fact, there's a whole world full of things they don't know and, for most days, for at least six hours, a set of unrelated people try to help them grow in a multitude of subjects. This, and they're trying to balance the new expectations of a peer group on top. However, if your child frequently copes with even the smallest amount of stress by giving up, this can be a sign of anxiety. If you hear, "I can't do it," or "I'm not good at..." from your child routinely, seek advise from a professional.
We've all heard of children of divorce blaming themselves and needing to work through misplaced guilt. If you hear your child wondering constantly what he/she did to cause x to happen, this may be cause for concern. Did your child's friend forget to call after school to talk about that project they're working on? Does that make your child wonder if they did or said something to upset that friend? Does you child apologize to you when things go wrong in your life, things that have nothing to do with him/her? Stressing about events that have nothing to do with their actions or could be explained away by simple means is a red flag for anxiety.
Kids all have different levels of tolerance for fear. Some can't stand the dark while others seem unaffected while watching Hocus Pocus. A lot of this is based on personality, but if your child seems to be spooked by the smallest thing, it's something to keep your eye on. It can be a sign that they're mind is focused on worry, that their bodies are responding to heightened levels of stress triggering their fight or flight response. It's not healthy for a little one to live in a constant state of flight. If he/she is flinching, gasping, or fearful of the slightest unexpected interruption, report this to your pediatrician.
According to Calm Clinic, "The key reason that some people with anxiety have trouble managing their weight is because of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is released during times of stress, which means that it's also released during anxiety. Cortisol causes fat to build up around the midsection, and is one of the primary reasons that those with stress have trouble maintaining their weight." This means that, if your kiddo is gaining weight without noticeable cause, especially if the weight gain is effecting their blood pressure or confidence, seek a doctor's guidance. Also, if weight gain coincides with quitting activities, this also could point to anxiety.
Does your child often complain of being cold when you're not? Does he/she get the chills despite not being in a cool environment? This can be a sign of the kiddo experiencing high stress levels, which can cause the body to suddenly change temperature. Also, adults who have diagnosed anxiety attacks have reported bouts of the chills before a severe attack or, similarly, a tinging down their spines. When people are in the grips of a prolonged heightened level of stress, they may not even notice that they're sweating until the cold chills set in or their bodies begin to regulate once more.
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Sometimes, it seems like kids don't really get the sliding scale of pain. They'll scream at a paper cut but calmly tell you that while running they fell down and knocked out a tooth. However, people with anxiety often feel pain much more sharply and are more aware of even minor annoyances than people without the disorder. Why? They're often hyper vigilant with their bodies, knowing immediately when something is outside of their normal. Their fear that something terrible is always right around the corner amplifies body discomforts and increases their worry that something may be wrong inside them. If your child can't seem to handle any degree of every day pain like a loose tooth or a bruised knee, this could be a sign of anxiety.
Okay, we all get...gassy. And yes, kids tend to be more in your face about this. Unfortunately for sufferers of anxiety, their heightened levels of stress tend to cause gastrointestinal discomfort. As Calm Clinic says, "Although not well-known, belching is a somewhat common symptom of anxiety. And although belching is usually a short-lived physical reaction, it can be difficult to cope with physically, and it can become challenging to deal with in social situations." Anxiety can actually alter the way a person breathes, making gas bubbles more likely. If your kid seems to burp anytime they're feeling awkward or not at ease within themselves, make note.
Does you kiddo insist on seeing a doctor? Does he/she think every minor symptom is a sign of something horribly wrong? Do you dread your kid's expected childhood fevers and bumps and bruises because of his/her reaction to illness? If you answered yes, these are signs that your child could be suffering from anxiety. Mayo Clinic defines this specific symptom as, "preoccupation with the idea that you're seriously ill, based on normal body sensations (such as a noisy stomach) or minor signs (such as a minor rash)." Kids tend to want to stay away from doctors and hospitals, not seek them out for treatment.
This isn't the normal, just started school snuffles. If your kid catches everything they could possibly come into contact with, it could be a sign of a weakened immune system. While there are illness out there that can cause this, anxiety could definitely be the culprit. Because of those increased levels of cortisol (which we mentioned in the weight gain paragraph), people who experience bouts of anxiety tend to fall sick more often. Their bodies just don't fight off viral infections as well as someone in a healthy mental state. Cortisol is known to suppress both T cells and the body's superhero, whit blood cells.