Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is thought to be caused by a combination of biological, family, and environmental factors. A chemical imbalance involving the hormones norepinephrine and serotonin most likely contributes as well. The primary symptom of GAD in children is excessive anxiety and worry over a variety of issues that occurs more often than not, for a period of at least six months. This is often accompanied with being restless or a feeling of being unsettled, becoming easily fatigued, having trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and trouble sleeping. They may also suffer from frequent headaches and stomachaches and could feel as if they have a lump in their throat.
Adults with GAD often suffer from the same symptoms, but with children they usually don’t realize that their anxiety is far more intense than the situation warrants. Even if they are aware that their anxiety is excessive, they are usually unable to help or control the amount of worry they experience. They may become completely preoccupied with doing tasks “just right”. A child who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder will often appear to be inflexible or so excessively worried about conformity that they are unable to enjoy their hobbies or recreational activities. They are often very hard on themselves and strive for perfection in all that they do. They may also be very insecure and often seek approval and reassurance from others around them.
If your child suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, it is critical that you pay close attention to your child’s feelings and stay calm when they feel anxious about an event or situation. You should recognize and praise even small accomplishments without punishing for a lack of progress or for mistakes. It’s important to maintain a normal routine and still remain flexible enough to be able to modify your expectations during stressful situations. It’s a good idea to factor extra time into your schedule for transitioning for example, if getting to school is an issue. You should also keep in mind that your child’s anxiety is not a sign that you’re a poor parent or that your child is “damaged”.
Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by “excessive worrying about a variety of events, including those in the past, present, and future.” Anxiety disorders such as GAD have been found to affect approximately one in every eight children, so your child is in no way weird, strange, or different. Children that suffer from this disorder find it difficult to control the amount of time that they spend worrying over past events including past conversations, school performance, performance in sports, world events, or their health, among other things. Typically a child suffering from GAD worries to the extent that it interferes in their daily life. Left untreated, a child with GAD is more likely to experience poor school performance, miss out on important social experiences and be more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol or even suicide. Anxiety disorders are often found in combination with depression, eating disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The good news is that, with treatment and the techniques you’ll discover in the rest of this program, the symptoms of GAD can be controlled and your child can still live a normal, happy life.