Does your child
- Have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason?
- Have extreme reactions to change?
- Have racing thoughts that do not stop no matter how much they try?
- Have moments of intense fear or panic where their heart is beating very fast?
- Avoid social situations and talking with peers?
Fear and worry are normal – and some fears, such as a fear of strangers, are even considered healthy. We all know what it’s like to feel nervous before a test, a school play, a presentation in class or a high stakes meeting at work. There are certain times in our lives when it’s completely normal and expected to experience stress and worry to some degree, like if it’s your first day at a new job or your teen is going off to college or maybe your child is starting junior high and that means going to a new school.
It’s common to feel nervous or experience stress during times of growth and transition. As your children grow up and experience milestones it can bring up so many feelings. You’re proud and excited of course, but you might also be feeling worried and you find that you and your child may need time adjusting to the transitions. This is all to be expected. However, if you notice that your child or teen is avoiding doing certain tasks, avoiding going to school, or skipping classes for example – maybe you notice that your teen avoids social situations, they worry about meeting new people, hate being called on in class, and you’re concerned they might be dealing with social anxiety. If the day to day worries and things that you know your child or teen is scared of begin to take control and impact how they’re living their lives, this is the point at which nervousness crosses over to anxiety and it’s time to explore what’s causing their fears. But what is anxiety and what does anxiety look like?
What Is Anxiety?
The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.” We often explain anxiety to clients as “a worried thought that begins to spiral.” Stress and worry are normal responses to the everyday frustrations and challenges of life, but when that stress or worry starts to send your mind spinning into potential future catastrophes, you know you’ve wandered too far.
There are many types of anxiety: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Separation Anxiety, Acute Stress or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Anxiety symptoms can show up differently in children, teens, and young adults, so it is helpful to know what to watch for.
Recognizing Signs of Anxiety in Children
Some children find it harder to get their anxious feelings under control or perceive their outside world to be scarier or more dangerous than other children their age. As kids encounter new situations and experiences in their lives, sometimes they’re not able to cope with the different worries and fears that surface.
If your child is acting out and there are daily episodes of crying, meltdowns, and physical complaints when it’s time to go to school, to do homework, after they come home from school, or before bedtime these are signs that your child may need more support.
If your child is on the autism spectrum or has sensory processing issues, you may find that certain experiences are particularly frightening or distressing to them. Changes in routine, loud noises, not having their favorite food or clothes available to them, anything that might overwhelm or overload the senses can be extremely anxiety provoking.
You may also notice the following:
- Physical symptoms, like headaches or stomach aches, that are not a result of other medical conditions.
- Meltdowns and extreme distress more than a tantrum
- Sleep issues: trouble falling asleep, wanting you to stay with them while they sleep, waking up during the night, waking up feeling tired.
- Restlessness, feeling wound-up, or on-edge
- Easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
- Avoiding certain people, places, or activities
- Excessive worry
Anxiety In Teens
It’s no secret that teens face a lot of pressure—especially kids who learn and think differently. Growing up is hard. The expectations of making choices post graduation and the "future" can be overwhelming. Here are some signs that your child is having trouble coping with stress.
- Refuses to go to school or do class or homework
- Won’t participate in class or work with classmates
- Starts having explosive outbursts
- Avoids social situations
- Becomes emotional or angry when leaving family or loved ones
- Stops doing activities they used to enjoy
- Seeks approval and assurance from parents, teachers, and friends more than usual
- They develop compulsive behaviors, like frequent handwashing or a need to organize things in a specific way.
Anxiety In Young Adults
Young adults sometimes think they have to have everything figured out: career, relationship, housing. It can be difficult to find your voice and balance what you want to do in the face of family expectations, college, and others’ opinions. And the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. All of these expectations can create stress and anxiety. Here are some signs that you might be feeling stressed and burned out:
- Trying to control outcomes, events, and people
- Feeling agitated or angry
- Having excessively high expectations of yourself at work or school.
- Overplanning for situations and events
- Intolerance of uncertainty
- Isolation / avoiding friends and social situations
- Self-medicating: increase in risky behaviors
Solutions For Anxiety Treatment
Milestones is uniquely equipped to help children, teens, young adults, and families. We use empirically based approaches that are designed to meet each child and family where they are. Some of the Modalities that we use for Anxiety Treatment include:
- Play Therapy
- Family Therapy
- Solution Focused Therapy
Our approach to anxiety treatment is strengths-based. We believe that each and every person that comes to us possesses strengths. Sometimes our goal is to have those strengths show up more or to have your child recognize and appreciate their strengths. Sometimes children need us to help them identify their strengths. We join you and your family on your journey, providing a safe place where you can be vulnerable and supported. We tailor anxiety treatment to the client rather than trying to make the client fit the treatment. We meet you where you are at and help you to grow. Interventions are specific to the client.
Tools For Anxiety Treatment
Goals for anxiety treatment include: a better understanding about how anxiety is impacting your child and learning how to better respond to anxious feelings. You and your child will learn how to identify irrational thoughts and you will also learn how to model ways of coping with anxiety for your child.
Kids experiencing anxiety may come up with their own strategies to try and manage the situations that upset them. As a parent, you probably have had to develop your own strategies around what to do when your child is distressed, or find you need to keep finding new ways to soothe and comfort them. Maybe you feel at a loss and don’t understand why your child is reacting the way they are and you’re hoping things will get better on their own. You might even be blaming yourself because you know that anxiety tends to run in your family or worse yet, you may be judging your parenting. You don’t have to work through your child’s anxiety on your own. Please don’t blame yourself. There is no shame in asking for help or reaching out for more resources. We at Milestones can help your child manage their anxious feelings and support your family in the process.
In the therapy world, one of the tools we use in managing anxiety are called thought-stopping techniques. The idea is that when you become more aware of your anxiety triggers or even just more aware that you are having anxious thoughts, you are able to stop yourself and intentionally focus on a more positive way of thinking. The goal is to become more aware and then to stop long enough to change how you think and gradually begin to stop these spirals earlier and earlier. Once you become aware of an anxious thought and your desire to stop it, the next step is to replace that negative thought with a positive one.
We have found that for teens and young adults, gratitude can be used as an intentional way to stop anxious thoughts and retrain your brain. The next time you notice your child is having anxious thoughts, ask them to pause, take a deep breath, and name a few things they are thankful for in the moment. This simple, powerful practice of gratitude can not only stop their anxious thoughts, but it can also give them perspective, lift their spirits, and allow them to take control of their thoughts once again.
At Milestones Counseling, our therapists can show your child how to start noticing patterns in their anxious thoughts. What (or who) seems to trigger them? As they become more aware, your child will see that they can be more intentional about stopping their anxious thoughts and replacing them with something else. They’ll learn how to break the worry spiral by shifting their focus to something or an activity that brings them joy.
Collectively, we at Milestones have worked with hundreds of clients who have experienced anxiety and we believe that we can help you. With help and support, hope can return. Our therapists can help you feel more confident and capable about managing your day-to-day lives. Whether your child is experiencing separation anxiety, having trouble completing school tasks, your teenager is stressed out about the future, or you’re a young adult wondering, “what now?” we can help you gain new skills to manage feelings of anxiety.
Our therapists are all master’s level clinicians and licensed in the state of Maryland to provide mental health services. In addition, our therapists are all experienced with working in the school system. In fact, two of our therapists were previously teachers. We have communicated with teachers and school administrators and can help you advocate for your child and help you get your child the support they need in the classroom.
Let us partner with you in managing the issues that your child or your family are facing. Please call Milestones Counseling at (443) 574-4295 if you would like to schedule your first appointment with one of our talented and compassionate counselors today!