We’ve all been anxious. Your heart starts racing, your palms sweat, and you have the sudden urge to run away. Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to new or frightening situations. But when does a little anxiety become too much anxiety? When does being anxious change from a sudden, fleeting feeling to a debilitating state of being?
At Eleos Psychology Center, we are dedicated to helping children and adolescents find their courage and calm through individualized care and solutions. By working with your child or adolescent, we’ll be able to craft a unique care plan that is custom-tailored to their needs.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
Anxiety can affect children and adolescents both physically and emotionally, making it sometimes difficult to identify. Traditionally, we see anxiety physically present itself as an upset stomach in children or as headaches or chest pains in adolescents. If you notice that your child suddenly starts experiencing any of the following symptoms in an uncharacteristic way, at an unusual time, or without any warning or lead up, it might be due to anxiety.
- Chest pain
- Upset stomach
- Feeling either overly hot or cold
- Feeling a lump in their throat
- Numbness or tingling
- Rapid heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Trembling or shaking
- Holding their breath
Often physical symptoms of anxiety occur in conjunction with the body’s natural fight or flight warning system. When adrenaline is released into your child’s system, anxiety can misshape and redirect it, resulting in very real physical symptoms. See more on the five most common physical effects of anxiety below.
Behaviors That Are Due to Anxiety
Anxiety can shape your child’s or adolescent’s everyday life, and yours as well. Anxiety can manifest itself through various out-of-character behaviors such as avoidance. Has your child suddenly stopped asking to hang out with friends or go to the park? They might be altering their normal routines out of avoidance, which is a common behavior shown by those suffering from anxiety.
If left unchecked, avoidance can lead to unhealthy lifelong habits and patterns. Avoiding something is not a cure, it is a symptom and should be treated as such. Here are some general avoidance examples:
- Refusing to volunteer for games or answer questions in a group setting
- A desire to be perfect in appearance or in school work
- Avoiding friends or hanging out with others
- Refusing to go to school
- Refusing to go to organized activities such as sports, theater rehearsal or music lessons
Another common way that anxiety manifests is through dependency. Sometimes parents can confuse avoidance with dependence. For example, a child refusing to go to a friend’s birthday party without you is dependency, whereas a child suddenly refusing to go to a friend’s birthday party due to social fears is avoidance.
It is natural for children and adolescents to turn to their parents for information and comfort, but a child struggling with dependency will take these needs to a higher level. Children battling dependency tend to need excessive reassurance and advice to make what seems like easy, everyday decisions. If your child is struggling with dependency, you might find them frequently asking questions for reassurance such as:
- You’re sure you’ll be there to pick me up?
- Are you sure you remember what time it ends?
- What if I get sick?
Some behaviors exhibited by those struggling with dependency include:
- Not wanting to go to events alone, such as parties or sleepovers
- Not wanting to be away from home without a cellphone
- Excessively asking for advice on what clothing they should wear
Children are naturally reliant on their parents, and this is not a bad thing! It is only when that reliance turns into a deep dependence to perform everyday tasks that help should be sought. If you are unsure about your child’s dependency level, we welcome you to visit us at our beautiful St. Louis Park location. Our experts will help you and your child learn how to cope with their dependency issues in a custom therapy plan.
Everyone worries about something, but with anxiety, worrying can quickly grow to overshadow even some of a child’s most beloved activities. In children, some worries might include:
- Worrying about not being liked by a new group of peers
- Worrying for hours over small events like talking to a peer or teacher
- A feeling that any judgment made on them by a new group of people will be how they are viewed for the rest of their lives
In adolescents, worries tend to take to grow in scale. For example, some might:
- Have trouble falling asleep due to spending their time thinking about the day’s events
- Have trouble falling asleep because they are worried that they are not going to get enough sleep
- Come to extreme catastrophic conclusions about events that have yet to happen
- Only ever expect the worst to happen
Both children and adolescents can be troubled with worrying thoughts. Most times these thoughts cover a pretty broad spectrum and are closer related to emotions than to situations.
Common examples include:
- I’m going to fail
- What if Mom or Dad dies?
- I’m going to be yelled at
- Everyone will laugh at me if I say that
- What if I get sick in front of everyone
- The world is not safe
Anxiety Affecting Day-to-day Life
Anxiety doesn’t only get in the way of your child’s or adolescent’s happiness, but it can also disrupt their lives. Anxiety can hinder younger children from developing the social skills that they will need for the rest of their lives, and in adolescents, anxiety can have some very real physical side effects. Anyone battling anxiety can develop any of the following physical symptoms.
1. Difficulty Sleeping
Does your child have a hard time falling asleep, or is their sleep fitful and restless? This could be related to anxiety. The risks of not getting enough sleep extend well past simply being tired the next day, though lasting weariness is a troubling symptom. Not getting enough sleep at night can lead to poor performance at school, an increased risk of injury and various other health problems. A proper amount of sleep is vital for both children and adolescents.
Maybe your son or daughter slept the recommended number of hours the night before but is still tired for the rest of the day after they wake up. Chronic fatigue is a common symptom of anxiety and can often be overlooked or attributed to something else. Anxiety can disrupt the signals in the brain, which confuses the body and can distort the internal clock, leading to all day wariness.
Nervous sweating is a very common symptom of anxiety. Sweating is a natural stress response that is related to the fight or flight system. Anxiety-driven perspiration is not limited to one area of the body. Some see the most sweating occur on the hands, feet, forehead or underarms when anxious.
4. Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors
When children and adolescents are feeling anxious, they will develop rituals to help themselves cope with their anxiety. If you notice that your child has suddenly begun doing something repeatedly, such as picking at their fingers, braiding their hair, or compulsively organizing a particular item, anxiety might be to blame.
When experiencing anxiety, nausea can be present with our without the urge to vomit. Typically, nausea is created by the release of adrenaline that occurs when your child becomes anxious. Like sweating, nausea is a natural reaction in response to your body’s fight or flight system. Try to remind your child that feeling a little nausea when anxious is entirely natural and not something to fear.
Finding Help for Your Child’s or Adolescent’s Anxiety
At Eleos Psychology Center, we will work to identify the root of your child’s anxiety and then build a path toward courage, calm and resilience. Our therapists are able to help children understand how their environment affects their thoughts, how their thoughts shape their emotions, and how their emotions impact their behaviors.
We know that each child and adolescent is different and requires individualized care and treatment to live their lives to the fullest. If you would like to learn more about our child and adolescent therapy options, or more about how to cope with your child’s anxiety, our compassionate therapists are here to help.