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Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents

What are anxiety disorders?

Anxiety disorders cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, and uneasy during situations in which most others would not experience these symptoms.

Left untreated, these disorders can dramatically reduce productivity and significantly diminish an individual’s quality of life. Anxiety disorders in children can lead to poor school attendance, low self-esteem, deficient interpersonal skills, alcohol abuse, and adjustment difficulty.

Anxiety disorders are the most-common mental illnesses in America; they affect as many as one in 10 young people. Unfortunately, these disorders are often difficult to recognize, and many who suffer from them are either too ashamed to seek help or they fail to realize that these disorders can be treated effectively.

Other recognized anxiety disorders include:

• agoraphobia

• acute stress disorder

• anxiety disorder due to medical conditions (such as thyroid abnormalities)

• substance-induced anxiety disorder (such as from too much caffeine).

What are the most common anxiety disorders?

• Panic Disorder

— Characterized by panic attacks, panic disorder results in sudden feelings of terror that strike repeatedly and without warning. Physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality, and fear of dying. Children and adolescents with this disorder may experience unrealistic worry, self- consciousness, and tension

• Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)

— OCD is characterized by repeated, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). Adolescents may be aware that their symptoms don’t make sense and are excessive, but younger children may be distressed only when they are prevented from carrying out their compulsive habits. Compulsive be haviors often include counting, arranging and rearranging objects, and excessive hand washing.

• Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

— Persistent symptoms of this disorder occur after experiencing a trauma such as abuse, natural disasters, or extreme violence. Symptoms include nightmares; flashbacks; the numbing of emotions; depression; feeling angry, irritable, and distracted; and being easily startled.

• Phobias

— A phobia is a disabling and irrational fear of something that really poses little or no actual danger. The fear leads to avoidance of objects or situations and can cause extreme feelings of terror, dread, and panic, which can substantially restrict one’s life. “Specific” phobias center around particular objects (e.g., certain animals) or situations (e.g., heights or enclosed spaces). Common symptoms for children and adolescents with “social” phobia are hypersensitivity to criticism, difficulty being assertive, and low self-esteem.

• Generalized Anxiety Disorder

— Chronic, exaggerated worry about every-day, routine life events and activities that lasts at least six months is indicative of generalized anxiety disorder. Children and adolescents with this disorder usually anticipate the worst and often complain of fatigue, tension, headaches, and nausea.

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