Anxiety lives in our home. It sits at our table and over the years has become a familiar member of the family. Both my husband and my youngest daughter have a kind of Anxiety that isn’t the same as the regular type. And it’s taken us a long time to come to that very un-scientific assessment.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and absolutely not trained to give you advice on your childs anxiety. I am a Mom whose daughter has anxiety and this is my take on the subject. If you feel you need help, please contact your doctor. I know that it can be overwhelming in the moment, but there are people who can help you. Just pick up the phone XX
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is that feeling of dread or that prickly feeling you get down the back of your neck when you are scared. It’s like someone is watching you, waiting to pounce. It’s the belief that something bad is about to happen.
It’s not a good feeling but everyone gets anxious from time to time. It’s there for a bit and then it goes away. The problem begins when it doesn’t go away.
Our brains are designed to protect us from danger. And Anxiety is the way it does this. That feeling of doom is a chemical response to the way our brain perceives danger in our environment. It prompts us to fight or flight.
This, I am sure, was super helpful when prehistoric beasts roamed the Earth, but not so helpful when we are tucked into our warm beds at night or heading off to school in the morning.
Anxiety and Growing Up
Anxiety is a part of the process of growing up. When kids or teens are exposed to new or stressful situations, they resist the ‘new’ thing, then they figure out it’s not so scary and they overcome it.
For most children, Anxiety is a normal part of the learning experience.
But for some kids and teens, Anxiety doesn’t come and go. It hangs around for a bit too long. It can develop into an Anxiety Disorder when it starts to interfere with their day to day life, their friendships, school, emotions and family relationships.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 25% of 13- to 18-year-olds have an anxiety disorder, and just under 6% have a severe anxiety disorder.
When is Anxiety not the ‘normal kind’
Recognizing when your child or Teens Anxiety has become ‘more than the usual kind of Anxiety’ can be tricky. It’s an emotional time in their life, so as Moms it can be hard to determine when it’s ‘just hormonal puberty stuff’ or a red flag to a more serious issue.
The odd temper tantrum or pre-exam tears can be expected so don’t panic if you’re helping your child through an anxious time right now. Take a deep breath, and do what Moms do best.
If you feel as if the Anxiety isn’t dissipating or getting worse, then don’t ignore your instincts. You know your child better than anyone, so you need to always consider what’s normal behavior for YOUR child.
Signs of Anxiety in Teens and Pre-teens
Signs that the Anxiety is developing into something a little more serious are:
1. A Change in Behaviour
A change in your child or teens behavior is always something to pay attention to, such as
- Avoiding Social Interactions,
- Spending a lot of time alone,
- Isolating themselves from their usual peer group.
- Withdrawing from your family interactions
- Poor performance or lack of interest in school or other hobbies they used to enjoy
2. A Change in Emotion
I know that Teens change their Emotional state by the minute, but consider this as more of a general overview of their emotion rather than a play by play assessment. Think of your child or Teens emotional state over the past week.
- Have they been ‘themselves’
- Are they angry or irritable?
- Do they seem more teary than usual?
- Do you recall them laughing?
- Do they seem sad?
3. Physical Changes
Sometimes your child may not know that they are anxious or stressed out. These kids are masters at masking their feelings consciously or unconsciously. They start to show physical anxiety clues before you catch a glimpse of their change in internal state.
Physical signs of anxiety can include:
- Restless Sleep or taking a long time to fall asleep
- Loss or Excessive increase in appetite
- Stomach aches or gut issues
- Complaining of ‘feeling’ sick
- Vivid or Violent dreams or nightmares
- Frequent periods of rapid heartbeat
- Change in breathing
What to Do Next
For years I doubted myself. My daughter has been anxious for as long as I can remember. I didn’t get help because I thought that I hadn’t been parenting correctly.
Everyone and their dog had an opinion about what I should be doing.
I was too clingy.
I hadn’t been firm enough.
I’d been too firm.
I should just force her to do the things she was scared of.
I was imagining it.
Every day I sent her teary face and shaky body off to school. Then drove home in tears. I knew that it wasn’t the same as my other children. I thought it would pass if I just continued doing what I was doing for long enough.
My other three children went through the usual ‘Monday Morning School Anxiety’ and ‘first day of school tears’ too, but then it went away.
With my third child, the Anxiety never went away.
The school tears have stopped. And most people wouldn’t be able to see that she forces herself to be brave every single day.
She’s the most courageous child I know.
In our case, I’m not sure whether her Anxiety is ever going to go away, so we manage it daily. Some days are better than others. But at least we know what we’re facing.
Identifying it was the first step.
Don’t doubt yourself.
If Anxiety is becoming something you see everyday in your Child or Teens life, find someone you trust who can help you. Start by giving your child a big hug, then pick up the phone and make that appointment with your doctor. It’s not an immediate solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.