The anxiety it constitutes one of the greatest evils of our time. In Spain, a poll published in 2017 noted that affects one in six people. And although it is often thought that it is a problem unique to young people and adults, not a few children also suffer from this problem.
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The percentage of minors who suffer from anxiety varies considerably depending on their age, the sources of information and the criteria that are evaluated. But experts estimate that between 15-20% of children suffer it at some point (some sources indicate that the prevalence is between 4 and 32%).
It must be clarified that not all anxiety is harmful. There is a normal anxiety, which is a mechanism of adaptation to the environment and that all people feel in certain particular circumstances. The problem is the pathological anxiety, which generates much more intense and frequent reactions than the stimuli in the environment would justify, or that even occur without any stimulus.
Anxiety, the most diagnosed psychological problem in children
This pathological anxiety can take various forms, which are considered disorders. A study Spanish scientists explain that these disorders are the most diagnosed psychological problems in children and adolescents in our country, and those with the highest demand for care in mental health units.
It is a problem that can cause serious damage during childhood, with negative effects on the child’s well-being and those close to them, both in family and social life and in school performance.
In the long term, pathological anxiety can cause damage to the development of self-esteem and difficulties for interpersonal functioning and social adaptation. In fact, according to the aforementioned study, childhood anxiety “constitutes an important risk factor for the development of anxiety disorders in later evolutionary stages “.
Recognize anxiety in children
Identifying these problems “can be difficult,” says a document published by the Spanish Association of Primary Care Pediatrics (AEPap). The main cause is that sometimes the signals are “exaggerated or temporarily inappropriate expressions” anxiety or fear that is actually normal in the face of specific and specific causes.
Because of that, you have to pay attention to recognize If the symptoms persist in the long term and not only in specific episodes, but in circumstances that do not warrant this kind of reaction. In addition, the age of each child and their maturity level must be taken into account.
Certain attitudes that in adults or even adolescents “would imply a certain diagnosis, in the child are expressions of their evolutionary stage“, as a Article by Gemma Ochando Perales and Sergio Peris Cancio, published by the Spanish Society of Out-of-hospital Pediatrics and Primary Care.
How do you know which ones are specific to your evolutionary stage? The AEPap establishes three periods –Related to age– that help identify which attitudes and reactions may be normal in children and which are not:
1. In the early part of life, up to five years of ageBoth separation anxiety (an excessive reaction they experience when they are separated from their parents or attachment figures) and restlessness in the presence of strangers or the dark, among others, are normal. The only disorder recognized at this stage is the so-called “generalized anxiety.”
2. In the following period –between five and twelve years– Separation anxiety or specific phobias (going to school, the dark, blood, insects, etc.) are a problem. On the other hand, it is normal for them to be concerned about mysterious events, bodily harm, parental rejection, and school performance.
3. For the teenagersOn the other hand, fears related to social adequacy, hypochondriasis and fear of death are normal. The prototypical anxiety disorders of that age are social phobia and others similar to those of adult life.
Symptoms of childhood anxiety
The symptoms of childhood anxiety they are multiple and affect the child both physically and psychologically. They can be very varied and sometimes, according to the AEPap, “disconcerting.”
For the children of up to 7-8 yearsThe main ones include the following:
- Psychomotor agitation: performing involuntary and purposeless movements, such as walking without stopping within a room, wringing hands, pulling hair, moving the tongue, biting fingers or nails, etc.
- Neurovegetative symptoms, which are those that affect the functions that the body performs involuntarily: tachycardia, tachypnea (increased respiratory rate), excessive sweating, piloerection (goose bumps), etc.
- Physical complaints: dizziness, headaches or stomachaches, muscle tension.
- Unmotivated crying.
- Excessive attachment behaviors towards parents or primary caregivers.
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep-related problems: insomnia, restless sleep, drowsiness (talk asleep), etc.
In the case of older children and adolescents, some of these signals remain and others appear:
- Oppositionism: defiant, disobedient or hostile attitude, which often results in refusal to go to school, resistance to going to sleep, etc.
- Difficulty concentrating and paying attention.
- Excessive worry, which translates into extreme perfectionism regarding their performance in school, sports or related to other activities.
- Eating disorders, such as hyperphagia (increased appetite and food intake) or anorexia.
- Anguish and irritability.
Suspecting that the child or adolescent is suffering from anxiety, the advice is to go to the doctor’s office as soon as possible. In general, treatment consists of psychotherapy. On occasions when the severity of the case requires it, drugs are also used.
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