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What is anxiety?

Published 23rd November, 2017
Anxiety blog author Written by Margaret Ho, Behaviour Support Clinician 

Anxiety is a normal part of life which everyone experiences at some point.

However, when people consistently experience anxiety in large amounts, it can become a problem.  

For example, anxiety can stop both children and adults from doing things that are important to them as going to school or seeing friends.

Anxiety has three main characteristics

  1. Feelings of dread or fear;
  2. Bodily reactions  like sweating, feeling sick, shaking or increased heart rate; and
  3. Behaviours of withdrawal or avoidance

What does it look like?

Anxiety looks different on everyone.

It will largely depend on what the fear or worry causing the anxiety is about.  

For example, if a child is worried about being away from mum or dad, they may try and avoid times of separation – they might take a long time to get ready for school or refuse to attend. Many kids will also say they’re not feeling well so they have a reason not to attend.

Both children and adults can have a fear of what other people might think of them, dislike speaking in big groups or feel worried about eating in front of lots of people. Where this is the case, people will often choose to spend of their time alone.

Other times, people might be worried about making mistakes or not knowing about what is happening so they might ask lots of questions, do lots of checking or need people to assure them that everything is okay.

Some people are afraid of very specific things like dogs or spiders and will cry or scream and run away when they see them.

What can I do to help my child if I think they have anxiety?

While anxiety is most commonly spoken about in relation to teenagers and adults, it can often develop in children, especially in children living with disability.

If you think your child may have anxiety, it is important to acknowledge that there is something really bothering them and let them know that you will get them some help.

If you decide to see a psychologist, they will provide a structured way to help the child confront their fears via something called systematic desensitisation. This is a method of breaking the scary thing into small manageable steps and providing the child with calming strategies so that they don’t get overwhelmed by their fear.

The worst thing about anxiety is that when you avoid or “run away” from what you’re scared of, the relief you feel is very powerful. This means you end up wanting to avoid the scary thing all the time. Over time, this makes it harder to get over your fear.

Learn more about how Therapy Focus can help with behaviour support. 

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