What Are The Symptoms Of Anxiety In Children And How Is It Treated In Therapy?

For an adult, anxiety symptoms often include excessive worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, difficulty sleeping and panic attacks that are often misinterpreted as a heart attack. Anxiety often presents differently in children. Behaviors such as severe tantrums, night terrors, school refusal and avoidance, as well as increased somatic symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches and nausea. The difficult part about figuring out whether a child is having a “behavior problem” or is actually experiencing a significant mood or anxiety disorder is that children are often unable to make sense of or express verbally what they are experiencing due to their age and lack of experience with these situations and feelings as well as their developmental stage preventing them from expressing their feelings and worries through language. As an adult, we can say “I am worried that I am going to lose my job,” but a child is not able to identify what scares them yet until they have been taught how to identify and label their feelings and thoughts that they experience.

At Dr. Angela Reiter and Associates, a psychology practice located in Eastchester, NY, we assist your child in identifying and labeling feelings and thoughts and connecting them to triggering events and the behaviors that have occurred. We assist your child in identifying the physical, emotional, and cognitive symptoms of anxiety and instruct them in cognitive behavioral techniques to manage and reduce these symptoms. We utilize mindfulness-based skills such as imagery and relaxation techniques to mitigate the anxiety they are experiencing anywhere, whether they have anxiety at school, the doctor’s office, or at home.

Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder are the kids who worry about anything and everything. They are the kids who ask the “what-if” questions over and over again. They watch everything that is going on at home and often want to know details about adult topics that they may overhear their parents discussing (e.g. a neighbor losing their job or a family friend’s mother passing away) and then they distress for weeks about whether this may happen to them. Children with Generalized Anxiety Disorder worry for excessive amounts of time after something has occurred (e.g. a friend hurt their feelings, but has resumed play as normal, but they still worry whether the friend likes them). Generalized Anxiety Disorder often causes low self-esteem or worry about whether or not they are “good enough” at an activity, which can lead to avoidance of mastery of a skill or resistance to trying something new. Children with anxiety are often well known by the school nurse due to multiple visits and complaints of headaches and stomachaches. They may feel a need for perfection and have unrealistic expectations of their abilities and performance in school.

When a child is experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder, they may feel that they are stuck and must feel this way. But at Dr. Angela Reiter and Associates, we teach them that there is always a choice and we can choose how to react to our feelings. For a child with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, their first thought is often “what is the worst thing that could happen right now?” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can retrain them to think “what is the most likely thing that will happen in this situation?” This can make a situation less intimidating and scary by not making it so big. Their therapist will help them to identify how their mind is playing tricks on them by catastrophizing and overwhelming them with warnings and they will learn how to lower the volume of their “worry voice” and make their rational voice louder. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, therapists work on identifying anxious thoughts, challenging these thoughts, and generating alternative coping thoughts. Physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, which are often the worst part of anxiety, are addressed by teaching the child deep breathing and relaxation training. Then children can use these new skills to practice in situations that make them anxious (called in vivo exposures). This involves beginning with the easiest situations and moving to the more difficult as they master their anxiety.

Call us today to begin the first step in assisting your child or teen with anxiety start to feel in control again through CBT.

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