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Anxiety Disorder

Parents may notice that their child is fearful or nervous. This can be associated with a stressful event, such as public speaking or writing a test. It is normal for a child to worry or feel nervous about these single events.

Anxiety disorders are treatable. Both anti-anxiety medications and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have been shown to be effective and are sometimes used in combination. Early intervention is important.

Children or adolescents may have a problem, however, if they are frequently nervous or worried and find it hard to cope with any new situation or challenge. If they are trying to avoid any situation that causes anxiety, it may mean the child has an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety is defined as a feeling of unease. When the level of anxiety is great enough and persistent enough to interfere with everyday activities, it is considered an Anxiety Disorder.

 Types and Symptoms of Anxiety

Agoraphobia

  • persistent avoidance of places or situations in which one feels trapped or fears having a panic attack and/or being unable to escape the situation
  • can be so debilitating that some people become house bound
  • can include avoiding elevators, crowds, busy streets, traveling, using public transportation, driving or being alone

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • many worries and fears
  • tense muscles, a restless feeling, becoming tired easily, having problems concentrating, trouble sleeping
  • a need for approval

Panic Disorder

  • sudden onset of intense apprehension, fearfulness or terror
  • may include shortness of breath, dizziness, unsteady feelings, heart palpitations, trembling or shaking, sweating, chest pain, choking, feelings of unreality, fear of dying or going crazy
  • each occurrence usually lasts only a few minutes

Phobia

  • extreme fear of a specific thing or situation (e.g. dogs, insects)
  • fears cause significant distress and interfere with usual activities

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • fairly rare in children
  • begins after one or many episodes of serious emotional upset
  • may include jumpiness, muscle tension, being overly aware of one’s surroundings
  • nightmares and sleep problems
  • sometimes flashbacks when events are triggered

Separation Anxiety

  • constant thoughts and intense fears about the safety of parents and caretakers
  • refusing to go to school
  • frequent stomach aches and other physical complaints
  • extreme worries about sleeping away from home
  • being overly clingy
  • panic or tantrums at times of separation from parents

Social Anxiety

  • significant anxiety in certain types of social or performance situations
  • fear the evaluation or judgment of others
  • avoidance of public washrooms, eating in restaurants, writing in public
  • may cause panic or anxiety attacks
  • few friends outside the family

If the anxiety is severe and frequent and interferes with daily life, talk to a mental health professional. Don’t be embarassed to ask for help. Psychologists, social workers and counselors can help you. A combination of medication and couselling as well as relaxation exercises will help your child. Early intervention is important.

Useful resources/links for ANXIETY:

Anxiety BC - www.anxietybc.com
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) - www.aacap.org 
Canadian Mental Health Association - www.cmhawwd.ca
Children’s Mental Health Ontario - www.kidsmentalhealth.ca
Hamilton Health Sciences - www.macanxiety.com
kidsLINK - www.kidslinkcares.com - or via Front Door – 519-749-2932
London Health Sciences – Pediatric Outpatient Department -519-685-8500 x77553
Mind Your Mind - www.mindyourmind.ca
Offord Centre for Child Studies - www.knowledge.offordcentre.com
Parents for Children’s Mental Health parent support group – 519-749-8740 Ext. 212, www.PCMHwaterloo.com or e-mail: parent.advocacy@hotmail.com
University of Waterloo Psychology Department, Centre for Mental Health Research – 519-888-4567, Ext.33842; www.psychology.uwaterloo.ca/cmhr/index.html