anxiety in children

Anxiety in children: Part 6 of anxiety series

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“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” – Christopher Robin

I try to instill this in my children every day.  That they are strong. That they can live with courage.  And that they are safe and accepted as they are.

Anxiety in children is on the rise, and a lot of it might be, in my opinion, due to toxic belief systems, issues in the home, and issues in school (either academic or social).  But I’m not a trained mental health professional so all I can do is speculate based on things I see going on in the world around us.

Whatever the cause, kids are more anxious than ever.  According to the CDC, approximately 4.4 million children have diagnosed anxiety.  (Keep in mind how many probably go undiagnosed.) 

“Ever having been diagnosed with anxiety” among children aged 6-17 years increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011–2012.

So, if the prevalence raises 1% every approximately 4 years, it should be close to 9% of children now in 2020.  That doesn’t really sound like a lot when you think about it, but if you round it up to 10% to make the math easier, that 1 in 10 children.  And again, that is just children who have been diagnosed with anxiety.

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Anxiety starting in childhood is the fifth fact that I wanted to talk about in this series.  The series is based off of a post about anxiety that I wrote several months ago.

It affects millions of people every year, and many do not speak up until it gets to be more than they can handle.

My story of anxiety in childhood

I have dealt with some degree of anxiety since grade school.  I did have a lot of friends, but I was teased often by my peers.  Due to that, I developed a worrying mindset and low self-esteem. I also think I began to carry anxiety after my first memorable exposure to death, the unexpected loss of my cousin when I was 9.

In school, I was very nervous during tests.  Especially those stupid standardized ones.  I hated the feeling of being trapped in the classroom, since my anxiety made me have to go to the bathroom often.

It was a horrible, horrible time, and I can vividly remember calling my mom because I was “sick” more times than I could count.  My mom, a nurse, I think, knew the real reason I was calling. And in her defense, she has always been very encouraging and supportive in my battles with mental illness.  But sometimes, I think, there are just too many mitigating circumstances, and the anxiety just sticks around without almost militant opposition.

As an adult, I still live with anxiety.  It mainly manifests as health anxiety or low self-esteem.

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Anxiety in children

According to the CDC, anxiety can manifest in children in a number of ways:

-Being very afraid when away from parents (separation anxiety)

-Having extreme fear about a specific thing or situation, such as dogs, insects, or going to the doctor (phobias)

-Being very afraid of school and other places where there are people (social anxiety)

-Being very worried about the future and about bad things happening (general anxiety)

-Having repeated episodes of sudden, unexpected, intense fear that come with symptoms like heart pounding, having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty (panic disorder)

Anxiety may present as fear or worry, but can also make children irritable and angry. Anxiety symptoms can also include trouble sleeping, as well as physical symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or stomachaches. Some anxious children keep their worries to themselves and, thus, the symptoms can be missed.”

I think this last bit especially is why this blog series is so important.  Anxiety does not always look obviously “nervous,” and these additional symptoms are very important to be aware of.

How to spot it in a friend

Maybe you’re not the anxious one.  Maybe your child or a child in your life is suffering from anxiety.  As I mentioned in my previous post about anxiety, it is incredibly common.  40 million adults live in the United States live with anxiety per year, and approximately 4-5 million children.

Here are some common symptoms of childhood anxiety:

  • restlessness
  • fatigue
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)

These are according to Verywell Mind, who says that these are usually present in true anxiety almost daily.

If your child or loved one has even one or more of these symptoms, they are possibly living with some form of anxiety.  Speaking from experience, these are awful feelings to live with, and they can be the reason that many anxious people find themselves not speaking up.

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What you can do to help your child manage anxiety

Here are some things that have helped me, and that I put into practice daily with my 2 children (one of which is highly sensitive):

  • Positive affirmations.  Teach them to think about themselves in a positive way early in life, so any insecurities have less of a chance to carry on into adulthood.  
  • Teach them positive habits at a young age.  Physical activity has a lot of benefits for those who live with anxiety.  Even just playing games where you run around the house a bunch, if the weather’s bad.  Make them at least try fruits and vegetables, since there is also a correlation between moods and how we eat.
  • Model empathy.  If you make it a priority in your home to be kind to others (and especially to each other), it could help your little one learn to be kinder to themselves.
  • Do not “feelings shame.” Feelings are always valid. It is important to teach children to react to them in a healthy way, but a person’s feelings are never something to feel shame for.
  • Speak openly about your own struggles. This helps normalize mental illness, and could give your child the courage to speak up about theirs.
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Anxiety is hard.  I hate it. Some people are great about putting a positive spin on their mental health issues.  But yep. I hate anxiety.

That being said, there are definitely ways you can manage it. And I think the sooner you recognize the symptoms, the easier it becomes.

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Related Posts: What is Anxiety?, 7 Interesting Facts About Anxiety, How to recognize the physical symptoms of depression and anxiety, Reading and mental health, How physical and mental health are related, 19 Fun Things to Do With Kids

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12 thoughts on “Anxiety in children: Part 6 of anxiety series”

  1. Thank you for sharing this and your experience! As a new parent my goal is to try to be as mindful as I can about my daughter and her feelings and trying to be aware if shes having any anxiety. She’s young (18M) but we’re practicing expressing how she’s feeling by using our words and that seems to be helping her

  2. I LOVE the quote you opened the post with! It’s one of my favorites. My son occasionally struggles with anxiety. It can be a hard thing to deal with at times. I know that I struggled with horrible test anxiety (still do when I have a test to take). Thank you for this post!

  3. Both my children are autistic and both have diagnosis of anxiety. It makes it more complicated, especially their ability to express their anxiety, which has been difficult to navigate..

    But the tips to help manage the anxiety are all just as relevant, and should be practised by everyone.

    1. That would be hard! I worked with children with autism for like a year post college when I got a job as a TA, and it can be challenging but so rewarding. I’m sure as they grow up they will appreciate having you as an advocate.

  4. I think one of the hardest things for children with anxiety has got to be learning how to express how they feel. Emotions can already be difficult for children to process and I imagine anxiety is one of the most difficult. Thanks for sharing all this great information. It’s good for parents to be on the lookout for the signs and symptoms of anxiety in their kids.

    1. Definitely. Either they can’t put it into words, or they are taught that feelings are bad for whatever reason. My 4 (almost 5) year old is quite emotional and I’ve been trying to get her to describe to me how she is feeling. I hope that helps her.

  5. I enjoyed this article very much. I have suffered from chronic anxiety for my entire life, though it was not diagnosed until I was in my 20s. My parents had no idea that this was an issue for me when I was growing up. It is a blessing that anxiety is now recognized more often, and that there are more available means to discuss it and treat it.
    My Best Friend Adeline

    1. Yes! I think my mom KNEW, but there weren’t as many tools available in the 90s that there are today. My kids are lucky if they are like me in a way, because it will be easier to help them than it was for our parents. Thanks for reading!

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