Anxiety In Childrenand Adolescents Patricia Wentzell, M.Ed. (Counselling)
What is anxiety? • Anxiety is a natural human reaction that involves mind and body. Everybody experiences anxiety at times. • Most children, adolescents and adults use anxiety to help them make good decisions, prepare for danger or perform at their best e.g., looking both ways before crossing the street, setting an alarm so they don’t oversleep, studying for tests, etc. • Although anxiety can be uncomfortable, it is generally temporary and does not last long.
When is anxiety a problem? • Anxiety is a problem when our body reacts as if there is danger when there is no real danger or our reaction is too extreme for the situation. • It's like having an overly sensitive smoke alarm system in your body. • A smoke alarm can help to protect us when there is an actual fire, but when a smoke alarm is too sensitive and goes off when there isn't really a fire, it can be somewhat annoying. • For anxiety, the trigger is not an actual threat.
What are some other symptoms of anxiety? Possible Responses Flight Fight Freeze Responses can range from wanting to run away from or lash out at situations causing anxiety. This may even mean stopping doing things that you used to enjoy.
The Amygdala: Anxiety Control Centre of the Brain Whenever we detect danger, real or perceived, a brain structure called the amygdala immediately responds. The amygdala activates our sympathetic nervous system, which in turn ensures we are alert and prepared to take action. We then experience a cascade of physiological reactions: our heart and respiration rates increase and our muscles become tense. This “fight or flight” response, which occurs in all humans, helps us to protect ourselves from danger. (Schwartz, Waddell, Barican, Garland, Gray-Grant, & Nightingale 2012)
Three Components of Anxiety Feeling Doing Thinking
Some Therapeutic Strategies Used to Treat Anxiety Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most widely used treatment for childhood anxiety disorders. This is a symptom oriented therapy that combines learning about the disorder with specific treatment interventions. The main components may include: • Measuring feelings • Learning to identify/manage symptoms • Developing realistic thinking • Problem-solving • Positive self-talk • Rewarding brave behaviour • Gradual exposure – gradual facing of situations that elicit anxiety Kutcher, 2010
More tools to manage anxiety: Positive self-management of symptoms: • Meditation or yoga • Deep breathing • Mindfulness training • Visualization techniques (guided imagery) • Progressive muscle relaxation