Generalised Anxiety Disorder in Children

A large number of my clients suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and I’ve been privileged to help them lead a less fearful and more rewarding life; giving them the tools to understand and manage their own symptoms. It’s great to see clients put their new-found knowledge into practice; week-on-week I see them gain confidence and grow.

Sadly, in the last few years, I’ve noticed an increase in enquiries from parents seeking help for children suffering from anxiety disorders.

The number of school-age children I’ve treated for anxiety has quadrupled; and the number is rising.

But why are so many children suffering with anxiety? What are the underlying causes? And what can you do help your child?

Often, children are displaying anxiety symptoms in response to the school environment. Examinations, ongoing assessments, peer-pressure, poor self-image and cyber-bullying; these are very real problems facing young people today.

Whatever has triggered the anxiety – the outcomes are very similar. The anxiety builds gradually over a period of time, until it reaches unmanageable levels; often resulting in school avoidance. Mounting pressure from school and parents (who sometimes have to take time off work/commitments to help deal with the issue) can compound the problem, leading to an increase of anxiety and total school-refusal.

Unfortunately, if the anxiety is not treated and managed, a period of absence is not enough to make the problem go away. In fact, it can make things worse. The anxiety symptoms take a hold and the child starts to avoid other, normally enjoyable, activities such as parties, football matches, travel on public transport or shopping.

But the feelings of vulnerability are very real to your child – trying to force reintegration at this stage can be counter-productive; resulting in extreme reactions and physical symptoms (sore throat, migraine, fatigue). This is caused by the ‘primitive’ part of the brain perceiving a threat; resulting in the fight/flight/freeze response. At this stage, the child is in a heightened state of anxiety, believing they are seriously ill; unable to bring the feelings back under control, they struggle to function and cope with every-day situations.

So, assuming there are no underlying health issues or conditions, how can you help your child to overcome their fears and get back to enjoying life?

The first step is acceptance; that the problem is real – they are not imagining it, being awkward or difficult. Acceptance alone shows that you are taking the problem seriously; validating your child’s feeling will help reduce some of the pressure on them and pave the way to seeking a solution together.

It’s encouraging that some schools are adopting a positive approach to mental and physical wellness – offering mindfulness/meditation programmes to help them feel a sense of calm and wellbeing.It’s worth asking your school if they offer this – and pushing them to do so! I look forward to a day when all schools offer wellness programmes as an integral part of their curriculum, but I think there’s a way to go yet.

I use a range of techniques to help clients, and their children, manage their own wellbeing; using methods they can learn and use at home.There is no ‘one size fits all’ – I’ve achieved results using a number of therapies; including hypnotherapy, mindfulness and more recently BWRT (Brain Working Recursive Therapy).

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