Close your eyes and think about what an anxious person looks like, or what they might do. A lot of us will imagine someone who worries a lot, is nervous, avoids certain activities, and is shaky and/or panicky. While all of these definitely describe someone with anxiety, children often do not have the ability to communicate or express what they are feeling. This can lead to their anxiety manifesting itself in some unexpected ways. The following are symptoms to watch for if you suspect your child might be anxious:
Frequent stomach aches, headaches, and other body-related complaints.
Somatic symptoms are common in kids with anxiety. Up to 50% of anxious kids reporting at least one somatic complaint. Somatic symptoms may include frequent headaches or stomach aches before school or other activities.
Difficulty concentrating or maintaining focus.
We often associate difficulty concentrating in kids with an attention-deficit disorder. Surprisingly, anxiety disorders and ADHD have several symptoms in common. Children with anxiety tend to have significant difficulty sustaining focus, both in school and home environments.
Irritability and mood changes.
Anxiety can make children more irritable and prone to sudden mood changes, especially when faced with a trigger (such as school or a big test). It’s important to keep an eye on these mood changes and determine if there is a pattern.
High expectations and frustration.
Some kids put a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed, whether at school or in extracurricular activities. Some may have unrealistic expectations that lead to perfectionism and/or anxiety. Notice how your child reacts when they do poorly on an assignment or loses a game.
Difficulty falling asleep and staying up late.
Insomnia is common in children with anxiety, especially the excessive worriers who stay up late at night thinking of all the things that might go wrong the next day. Anxious kids have a hard time calming themselves down at night and will often stay up on their phones or playing video games to try to distract themselves.
As you may have noticed, these symptoms can also mimic many other issues, such as ADHD and depression. Children often have difficulty articulating their feelings, especially if they are uncomfortable and distressing. If you have noticed any of these symptoms in your child, it may be beneficial to have them evaluated for a potential anxiety disorder.
A future post, will discuss how to best address anxiety in your child and help them cope with uncomfortable emotions.