Anxiety refers to apprehension, distress, and worry that may result from life experiences or anticipation of future events and experiences. Anxiety becomes a disorder when it reaches pathological levels and interferes with a person’s daily life. General anxiety disorder (GAD) involves excessive worrying that does not focus on a particular subject or situation. Approximately 3 to 4.6 percent of children, aged 5 to 19 years, suffer from GAD.
Children with GAD
Children with GAD worry persistently and more intensely than other children. These children often exhibit perfectionist traits, resulting in self-criticizing thoughts that they may vocalize to friends and family. They fret intensely about their athletic or academic competence; their personal safety; the safety of loved ones; and the possibility of disasters and future events beyond their control. The focal point of the worry often changes, but they find it difficult to put aside the thoughts that cause them to worry. In an attempt to escape the excessive feelings associated with GAD, children fraught with the disorder attempt to control even the most significant events and tasks as well as create a highly structured life routine. If your child has persistently exhibited some or all of these behaviors for six months, consult with his or her pediatric physician about your concerns.
Treatments for Children with GAD
If the pediatrician suspects that your child may suffer from an anxiety disorder, he will typically refer the child to a pediatric psychiatrist. The specialist will record a family medical history and ask whether other family members suffer from anxiety disorders. Armed with this information, the doctor will decide whether to treat your child using medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, or a combination of the two methods.
Very few conclusive studies regarding pharmacological management of anxiety disorders in children exist. However, some researchers and psychiatrists claim that the anti-anxiety medication, Buspar, offers some benefit to pathologically anxious children, but the evidence is largely anecdotal and scientifically unproven. Many pediatric psychiatrists report success using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medications in children with GAD. Some brand names of popular SSRI drugs include Lexapro, Zoloft, and Prozac. It is not recommended doctors prescribe any of the benzodiazepine class of drugs to manage anxiety and insomnia in children with GAD; these drugs, such as Klonopin, Xanax, and Valium, are considered highly addictive.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) represents the most commonly used method for treating and managing anxiety in children. This approach to anxiety management utilizes goal-based and systematic strategies to equip children with the tools to substitute healthier, productive thought processes for the excessive, destructive thoughts. This therapy seeks to help these children achieve a more constructive and happier emotional state. Many physicians combine CBT with prescription medication and report high satisfaction with the efficacy of this combination treatment strategy.
While anxiety in children with GAD persists throughout the year, anxiety disorders tend to worsen during times of stress, such as during the school year. Your child should not have to suffer with excessive worry, distress, or fear. Research shows that the longer treatment is delayed, the more difficult it is to effectively treat GAD. Contact your pediatric clinic for detailed information and to speak with a healthcare professional about your child’s anxiety.
Samantha Gluck is a writer who specializes in various topics including pediatric healthcare, OB/GYN healthcare, business and much more.