Anxiety Symptoms in Kids - On the Rise
Anxiety symptoms in kids have been steadily on the rise for the last 50 years. In any given year, anxiety in kids is at least 15%. Some studies have this number as high as 20% or more. Anxiety as often as not has its start in childhood. Addressing it during childhood can prevent it from lingering into adolescence and adulthood.
Common Characteristics of Anxiety Disorders
On the right are links for you to explore specific types of anxiety and the symptoms associated with them. Anxiety disorders share a set of common characteristics. If each of these circles represent a type of anxiety, you can see that for the most part they overlap. The part that overlaps is common to anxiety disorders and the part that doesn't distinguishes one type from the other. The common components are 1) Physical: the fight or flight response, 2) Mind: the thinking errors that activates or increases the physical reaction and 3) Actions: how a person tries to solve the problem presented by anxiety. In the Turnaround Program we call these 1) Yucky Feelings, 2) Whacky Thoughts and 3) Zany Responses.
1. Physical: Fight or Flight (Yucky Feelings)
This is when the body goes postal for anxiety kids. Your nervous system has launched an amazing chemical and neurological network designed to temporarily make you a “super-you”. It keeps us out of trouble. We need something to compensate for all the dumb stuff we might do. Seriously, thank God for this or none of us would have made it to age five. This arousal is often referred to as a "fight or flight" response. It is an action of the sympathetic nervous system. In our program we personified this part of the body with a character named Krank. With anxiety disorders, Krank has fired up in response to false alarms. There is nothing wrong with it, believe it or not. It is doing exactly what it is supposed to do -- just at the wrong time!
2. Mind: Thinking Errors (Whacky Thoughts)
This is the mental stuff connected to fear. It can be beliefs, assumptions, expectations, images, words, sounds, etc. We are interpreting our lives as we go. (What is important, what is not, what is beautiful, what I need to do, what does that gesture mean, etc.) Our "thinking world" can be everything from elaborate multi-layered epics to transient flashes easily forgotten (this is why sometimes you do not know why you are feeling scared). Our minds are capable of stunning creativity. If you think in a certain way, your nervous system will feel it like its real. That is why certain thoughts cause anxiety. Your child may be terrified but from your vantage point there is no danger. It is because their thoughts have activated the fight or flight response and that “trumps” everything. It feels real to them.
3. Action/Reaction: Attempts to Solve the Problem (Zany Responses)
Fear demands a response. Surprisingly, some responses that seem so normal, reasonable, legitimate make the anxiety much worse. Paradox! Fear can really make a compelling case. Shouldn't we avoid things that are dangerous? Unfortunately, the "problem" fear is based on pure imagination. That kind of fear, “what-if” fear, needs faced because it is not real. By “what-if” we mean things like “what if I panic in the store", "what if I touch the doorknob and get sick” and so forth; things that are just scary possibilities. When you do not face the fear, the strength of the imagined danger actually grows. It gets scarier. So in an attempt to protect ourselves, we avoid these fears by obsessing, avoiding or creating rituals. But this kind of avoidance or control works just enough but it backfires and makes things worse. Anxiety in kids and adults works the same way.
These three components mix to form the perfect storm of a disorder in anxiety kids. No one chooses to have an anxiety disorder. Actually the strange symptoms are part on an effort to SOLVE the problem! What happens is that instead of solving the problem the symptoms become part of the problem. They work just enough to keep your child stuck. Panic works. If you listen to it, they won't have panic at school because they won't go to school. So if your child is displaying strange and intense anxiety symptoms they are not trying to BE a problem, they are trying to SOLVE a problem, just not in the right way. This forms the basic components of anxiety symptoms in kids.