What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a normal part of our experience as a human being and it helps to protect us from danger.  However for many children and adults anxiety can become a problem and stop them from doing things they want to do.

Children and adolescents tend to be afraid of things such as leaving parents, the dark, monsters, fear of animals and insects (dogs, spiders), robbers or intruders and how they look as they get older.

What is an anxiety disorder?

While fears are normal, they are considered a problem or a disorder when they are more extreme or get in the way too much.  Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological problem in children and adolescents.  They can affect children's friendships, how they perform at school, and the choices available to them in terms of careers.  Often children with anxiety problems become adults with anxiety problems.  However, research shows that cognitive-behavioural therapy is very successful in treating anxiety.

What are some common anxiety and stress problems in childhood and adolescence?

  • Specific phobias (fears of particular things or situations such as heights, storms and injections)
  • Separation anxiety (the fear of being away from a main carefiver and can result in school avoidance)
  • Generalised anxiety (a tendancy to be worried in many areas of life)
  • Social anxiety (worry about interaction with others, which can result in selective mutism or not talking in certain situations)
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (certain thoughts like being worried about germs and actions like washing hands that are repeated over and over)
  • Panic disorder (a fear of panic attacks, more common in older adolescents)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (an ongoing reaction to a traumatic event like a car accident or abuse during which a child was afraid or injured)

The parent's/caregiver's role in child anxiety

Parents are important in terms of children's anxiety in that how they react can assist a child to overcome their anxiety.  However, parents can also make it less likely that children achieve this, usually because they are concerned for their child and may appreciate how a child feels due to their own difficulties with anxiety.  Anxiety runs in families and sometimes parents have a problem with anxiety themselves.  Children may be copying how their parents react in situations.

Anxiety in young people and adults

Anxiety disorders are also a common problem in adults.  In addition to the types of anxiety disorders listed above for young people, adults may also have health anxiety (sometimes called hypochondriasis).

Sometimes anxiety is triggered by stress.  Common stressors can be parental separation, death of a loved one, or doing badly at school.  If young people and adults are given information that feeling sad and worried is a normal reaction to a stressful event and they are supported to express their feelings and develop helpful ways to think about what has happened, their stress and worrying will reduce.  This can be provided at the Clinic.

Treatment of anxiety and stress problem: Cognitive behaviour therapy

Treatment of anxiety and stress problems involves children and families gaining an understanding of how our feelings, thoughts and behaviours are linked.  We then help them to change unhelpful ways of thinking about things and situations to more helpful ways of thinking.  This can have a powerful effect on how we feel and behave.  Children are then helped to start to do things that they are worried about in a gradual and supported way.  We want parents to be involved and understand how to do this so they can assist the child between sessions.  We may also need to assist parents to change how they react to their child when they are anxious.

Treatments for adults also uses cognitive behavioural therapy, again due to research showing the effectiveness of this approach.

How long is treatment for anxiety?

Treatment tends to take approximately 8-12 sessions depending on the type of anxiety and progress is regularly reviewed via discussion and questionnaire.