Generalized Anxiety Disorder
In children, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is also called overanxious disorder. Children and teens with GAD will have excessive concern and worry about the past or future, look for the worst in situations, and often have fears that are out of proportion to what you might have expected.
GAD affects approximately 3 to 5 percent of children age six to eleven years old. From early adolescence on, girls outnumber boys with this condition approximately two to one, and 50 percent of adults diagnosed with GAD had it during their childhood or adolescence.
GAD can be linked to an overactive thyroid gland, and a malfunction of this gland can cause the symptoms associated with anxiety. Children with chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, can be prone to anxiety as well.
Frequently this disorder starts out slowly and then sneaks up on your child, so exact causes have been difficult for researchers to confirm.
Your child may be filled with self-doubt that he feels he is unable to control and be highly critical of himself. He may be preoccupied with being on time and adamant about doing things “perfectly.”
Children with generalized anxiety disorder do not have occasional worries or fears; for them this disorder weaves throughout their entire day and all they do — schoolwork, appearance, money, friends, their health, the future, the past, what they said and did, and to whom. Unfortunately, as you can imagine, these symptoms can make living life, having friends, or enjoying a hobby or activity pretty difficult.
To be diagnosed with GAD, your child must have difficulty controlling the worry, and the anxiety and worry must be associated with one of the following, for at least six months:
Restlessness and inability to relax
Lack of energy
Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
Muscular tension, aches, or soreness
Also, be on the lookout for “What Ifs,” excessive perfectionism, frequent need for approval, trouble shutting off anxious thoughts, stomach problems, grinding of teeth, and dizziness.
Generalized anxiety disorder, like other types of anxiety, can coexist with depression, phobias, and panic attacks. Substance abuse in teenagers can be a problem if they are trying to self-medicate as a way to alleviate their symptoms.
My child can't sit still. How do I know if this is generalized anxiety disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?
If your child has anxiety, she might have difficulty paying attention and be hyperactive or fidgety. A key difference to look for is in the “worry.” Children with ADHD do not worry more than children without ADHD, whereas children with GAD are compelled to worry about many things throughout the day.
In addition, many people who meet a child, especially a teen, with GAD will see how concerned they are with time, schedules, finances, and health and think they are older than their years.
Be careful; you do not want to encourage or reinforce these signs of over responsibility. Certainly, for the moment it is nice to hear your child described in a positive, mature way, but keep in mind that you know that his “impressive” behavior is based on fear and worry, which is actually hurtful for him.
Certain factors may increase your child's risk of having generalized anxiety disorder. A buildup of stress, a physical illness, and a tendency toward being anxious are among the most common culprits. In addition, as previously mentioned, generalized anxiety disorder occurs more frequently in children who have medical issues like diabetes and high blood pressure. Multiple moves, losses, or transitions can also set the stage for GAD.