Anxiety Signs & Symptoms

As one of the most commonly diagnosed of all mental health conditions today, most people think of the presence of anxiety disorders as something that only affects adults. However, there are sadly countless children and adolescents who are plagued by the symptoms of these disorders as well. Although anxiety is something that everyone will inevitably experience at some point in their lives, in most cases, it is something temporary that results from the presence of an external variable. Anxiety disorders, on the other hand, refer to the pervasive existence of such symptoms that are so profound that they negatively impact an individual’s ability to function appropriately on a daily basis.

There are various types of anxiety disorders that affect individuals, which include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, and separation anxiety disorder. These disorders can present independently or can co-occur simultaneously amongst one another. The symptoms of each vary, but all will have a detrimental impact on a youth’s ability to function academically, to interact socially, to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships, and to successfully and healthily cope with external stressors.

Although the symptoms of anxiety disorders can be debilitating, there are fortunately many treatment options available that can help young people overcome their symptoms and attain the full, happy, and productive quality of life that they deserve.

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Statistics

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 at a prevalence rate of approximately 25%. Furthermore, studies have indicated that one out of every eight children under the age of 13 are affected by some type of anxiety disorder.

Causes and Risk Factors for Anxiety Disorders

The onset of anxiety disorders can be linked to a number of causes and determinable risk factors. Examples of both are described briefly in the following:

Genetic: Extensive research has concluded that there is a strong genetic link to the onset of anxiety disorders. Children and adolescents who have a family history of different types of anxiety disorders are especially vulnerable to developing the condition at some point in their lives. The presence of depression or other types of mental health conditions can also render youth susceptible to developing an anxiety disorder.

Environmental: The environment in which a young person spends a significant amount of time can greatly impact his or her susceptibility to experiencing the onset of an anxiety disorder. For example, experts in the mental health field have determined that when children are denied appropriate caregiver attention and affection, or if other needs are not met during the crucial developmental stages, symptoms synonymous with various anxiety disorders can develop. Furthermore, being exposed to environments in which children are not provided with a sense of safety and security can elicit the onset of anxiety.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of anxiety, depression, or another mental health condition
  • Chaotic or unstable home environments
  • History of abuse and/or neglect
  • Inconsistent parenting / lack of parental involvement
  • Exposure to crime and/or violence
  • Experiencing a traumatic event
  • Personal history of depression or other type of mental illness
  • Personal history of drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Exposure to, or family history of, substance abuse

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

The signs and symptoms that may become apparent when a child or adolescent is suffering from an anxiety disorder will vary from person to person depending upon the particular type of anxiety disorder that the youth is suffering from, the length of time that the disorder has been afflicting him or her, whether or not there exists a co-occurring disorder, and the support system that the young person has available to him or her. Examples of symptoms that may be exhibited by youth who are suffering from an anxiety disorder include:

Behavioral:

  • Declined participation in activities once enjoyed
  • School refusal
  • Pervasive restlessness
  • Periods of rapid, repetitive, or slowed speech
  • Temper tantrums
  • Avoidance of certain people, places, and/or situations
  • Engaging in self-harming behaviors
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Partaking in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors
  • Social withdrawal and isolation

Physical:

  • Chronic stomachaches
  • Chronic headaches
  • Frequent urination
  • Changes in eating patterns (resulting in weight gain or weight loss)
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Muscle tension

Cognitive:

  • Paranoia
  • Hindered learning abilities
  • Lacking the ability to focus
  • Repetitive thinking processes
  • Racing thoughts
  • Impatience

Psychosocial:

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Feelings of loneliness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Abrupt mood swings
  • Excessive levels of irritability and agitation
  • Pervasive feelings of nervousness
  • Constantly feeling as though one is under an immense amount of pressure
  • Irrational feelings of fear
  • Declined interest in things one was once interested in
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Anxiety Disorders

When children and adolescents suffer from the symptoms of anxiety disorders for prolonged periods of time and do not receive appropriate treatment, they are highly susceptible to experiencing a number of adverse effects, both physically and psychologically. Examples of various effects that can occur as a result of untreated anxiety can include:

  • Hindered learning capabilities in academic settings
  • Decline in academic performance / academic failure
  • Onset of problematic behaviors at school, resulting in the occurrence of disciplinary action
  • Ever-steady decline in self-esteem and sense of self-worth
  • Social withdrawal
  • Alienation of family members
  • Peer rejection
  • Decreased ability to develop new healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Increased likelihood for participating in self-harming behaviors
  • Increased need for hospitalization
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Increased risk of making attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Children and adolescents who are suffering from anxiety disorders are vulnerable to experiencing symptoms that are synonymous with other mental health conditions. Especially when an anxiety disorder is present and treatment is not sought and implemented, symptoms of other mental illnesses are even more likely to manifest. Examples of some of the most co-occurring disorders known to exist alongside anxiety disorders:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Additional anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders
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