Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children

Whatever your age or gender, there’s always something to be anxious about. Life is full of little worries and fears. Everyone gets scared but fear can be lived with, fears can be buried and that anxious voice in your head can be controlled. What if it can’t? What if you cannot control your fears? What if the monsters under your bed, have decided to live in your head? If you feel fearful of the unknown or anything, all the time then you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Simply put, an anxiety disorder (AD) is a mental disorder where a person is continuously anxious or fearful. Fear can take different forms, so there are different ways to classify an anxiety disorder. You can be scared of a specific object or thing, like spiders or snakes. This is a phobic anxiety disorder. You have to follow certain rituals and habits, otherwise you cannot live. This is called Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). You may be anxious around people, hate the pressure of behaving with others and maintaining relationships. This is a case of social anxiety disorder.
What if you are scared of the unknown? There is nothing that has frightened you or incited your fear. You are just tense, in an erratic proportion. You can’t relax. Worry is a predominant feeling, whatever other feelings are there, they live under the shadow of fear. You are scared of tomorrow, today and yesterday. This manifestation of an AD is a generalized anxiety disorder or GAD, a fear of anything and everything.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Children
Anxiety disorders are always associated with adulthood. A neurotic or worrywart adult, in fact, is a norm. But all fears have an incubation period and what better period for fear to firmly take root than childhood? Even in this happy-go-lucky period of life, fear is just waiting around the corner, to grab you. And amongst all the possible types of worry disorders in children, GAD is a popular type. Some common thoughts a child with GAD might have include:
☞ “The sky will fall on my head. Yes it will, it’s there for that purpose.”
☞ “I’m going to fail, I will be the dunce of the class, everyone will laugh at me. Or no one will even notice, because no one would even care.”
☞ “Today might be the last day I live and I have not done anything good!”
☞ “I scored an A+ on my test today! What if I don’t get one tomorrow? What if I never score an A for the rest of my life? What if my teacher gave me this grade by mistake?”
These are completely different thoughts coming from the same child. Notice the change in attitude and subject. The child first worries about living to see the next day, at the same time wants a good grade. And the ironic twist to most GAD cases, especially with kids, is there is no real reason to worry or obsess about. Everything is fine, the child has managed to build a mountain out of a molehill, in his or her mind. And the fear is always out-of-proportion or unexpected. The subjects to worry about are also diverse and can vary based on age or gender. Sports, academics, peer groups, sexual issues, family life, the future, money, looks.. the list is endless.
Symptoms of GAD in Children
Some key indications and signs include:

  • Feelings of morbidity and death
  • Feeling sick or nauseated
  • Always on edge
  • Difficulty in having faith or believing in things
  • Needs continuous reassurance
  • Worrying about small things and issues
  • Tired and lethargic
  • Tends to think everything is their fault
  • Acting fey or suddenly exuberant
  • Cannot concentrate
  • Irritated and moody
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Has to be perfect, scared of making mistakes
  • Cannot handle criticism
  • Has very high and unrealistic intentions from oneself
  • Tense muscular stance
  • Aches and pains in different body parts
  • Unnatural attachment to family members
  • Does not want to leave the house
  • Get startled easily
  • Always self-doubting
  • Avoids group and fun activities

The above symptoms in children and adolescents are just a rough idea of what ways the anxiety disorder can exhibit itself. Such signs are part of the child’s everyday behavior or have become a noticed change over the last 6 months. The typical onset for such symptoms is above 10 years of age, and GAD is more prevalent among girls than boys.

Here’s something to worry about with GAD: Children suffering from GAD have a 50% chance of keeping it in and through adulthood. For parents and family members, weird and different behavior is a key sign, that all is not right, because according to the child, his/hers level of concern or worry is appropriate for the situation. A mental health expert will conduct a complete evaluation of the child’s mental state and medical history. How to treat this disorder in children, you ask. Aside from therapy, a strong family support system is the best cure. Understanding and care, combined with help from a doctor and perhaps antidepressants, play a key role in rooting out this disorder. Eradicating or destroying the occurrence of a generalized anxiety disorder in children, ensures a healthy and productive state of mind, as an adult.