Anxiety is something we all experience; it is hardwired in our brain and is intended to act as protection against harm. However, as you can imagine and have likely experienced, anxiety often times shows itself even when nothing around us is a direct threat to our physical safety. Anxiety has many presentations and can grow, spread and even shift its form. If it were not for how intolerable anxiety could feel, it would be a fascinating magic show of the mind. Unfortunately, anxiety can often feel insurmountable. Anxiety can begin with subtle nervousness or fear about anything. For some kids, it may start out as worry about a test or being afraid after watching a scary movie, but it can quickly grow and spread to other areas of life. A once fun-loving youngster has become a worry-filled individual. However, just because we experience anxiety does not mean it has to bully you or your child.
It is not uncommon for anxiety to present as physical symptoms in children, including stomachaches. Other signs of anxiety in children may be the need for excessive reassurance, difficulty separating from parents, behaviors that may help the child “feel” safe (Safety Behaviors), and avoiding places where anxiety is felt. Anxiety can also be felt physically, such as feeling dizzy or lightheaded, numbness or tingling, increased heart rate, or rapid short breaths. When we experience anxiety, our first response is to “run away” from it. We want to do whatever we can to make that nervousness, fear, and panic go away, but this only makes the anxiety stronger in the future. For adults, anxiety-provoking situations can often times be identified rather easily; however, for a child it is much harder to make sense out of where the anxiety is coming from. The first step for your child in tackling anxiety is to put the worry into words. Talking to a parent or trusted adult can help children better understand what they are feeling. The worry, fear, or anxiety can then be made less powerful by using logic. Logic includes thinking about what is really true rather than what they are afraid might happen. Discussing what anxiety is and explaining how it can make people feel might help your child better understand.
Written By: Stephen Ham, M.A.
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