The origins of anxiety are not quite as easy to identify as those of depression. Some researchers suggest a biological component, but there isn’t proof of a biological cause. The most we can say is that some individuals may be born with a greater predisposition to worry than others.
Meanwhile, we know for a fact that anxiety can be taught by example within the context of the family. If you’re an anxious parent, chances are you’ll raise anxious kids, especially if you have a mentality that leads you to say things like this: “Always wear clean underwear in case you get into a car accident and end up in the hospital!”
Stress can also produce anxiety, though not necessarily in every instance. It’s common nowadays to say, “I’m stressed out,” when what you really mean is “I’m anxious.” Stress and anxiety are not the same thing. Stress is pressure imposed on you from the outside. Anxiety is one of a number of possible reactions to stress, and it comes from the inside.
Perfectionism is another possible source of anxiety. Firstborn children are more prone to worry and to be perfectionistic than their younger siblings. Perfectionism and anxiety don’t always go hand in hand, and the cause-and-effect relationship runs only in one direction: you can worry without being a perfectionist, but perfectionists are almost always anxious people too.
Signs and Symptoms
If we want to protect our kids against suicidal tendencies, we need to be intentional about eliminating anxiety. The first step in that process is identifying the problem. This can be a challenge, since anxiety expresses itself in a number of different ways. How can you tell if one of your children is struggling in this area? Here are a few warning signs:
Skewed perspective. Anxiety prevents us from hearing, seeing, and processing clearly. Look for indications of irrationality in your child’s way of looking at the world, such as statements like:
“Nobody likes me! I’m a loser.”
“I’ll never get asked out, ever.”
“I haven’t done anything right, ever.”
Restlessness. If a kid seems edgy or finds it difficult to keep still, there’s a good chance he’s worried about something.
Fatigue. Anxious people feel tired a lot of the time. Falling asleep at inopportune moments is a good way to escape internal worrying.
Lack of focus. Does your child have difficulty concentrating or staying on task? Does she ever sit and stare as if her mind has suddenly gone blank? These, too, can be symptoms of persistent anxiety.
Irritability. This would include excitability, touchiness, and hypersensitivity, as well as outbursts of anger.
Muscle tension. Keep an eye out for nervous ticks and twitches.
Sleep disorders. This includes insomnia as well as a tendency to sleep too much.
Avoidance and isolation. Like a depressed person, the anxious child often finds it difficult to engage in social situations. A tendency to withdraw or self-isolate—especially if it’s a new development—may be a sign of problems in this area.
There’s a difference between true clinical anxiety and the hormone-induced ups and downs of the average child. Here are signs of normal behavior:
- Edgy, jumpy, or tense stomach sensations come and go.
- Physical and/or emotional symptoms are temporary.
- Thoughts are related to a legitimate current situation the child is experiencing.
- Sleep is for the most part consistent.
- Physical and/or emotional symptoms don’t cause any significant inability to perform normal daily routines.
Here are warning signs of anxiety:
- Worry, edginess, jumpiness, or tense stomach sensations occur more days than not and persist for several months.
- Muscle tension tends to be a consistent problem.
- Concentration is difficult, when not the norm for this child.
- Anxiety seems to be excessive for the present situation.
- Anxiety is focused on a possible future situation that may or may not occur.
- It’s difficult for the child to control or contain worried thoughts or feelings.
- Nontypical disturbances in sleep occur (restlessness, difficulty falling or staying asleep).
- A child is easily fatigued for no physically apparent reason.
- Physical and/or emotional symptoms cause significant impairment in social, academic, or other important areas of functioning.
Be aware that introverted kids don’t always show signs of anxiety through their outward behavior. Where they’re concerned, parents may need to take a closer look.