Is feeling anxious normal?
At some stage in our lives, we will feel anxious when faced with a difficult situation.
Our body’s response to anxiety includes a mix of physiological, cognitive and behavioural symptoms.
Sometimes we can experience physiological symptoms such as sweating, our heart beating really fast and getting butterflies in our stomach. Sometimes we can experience cognitive symptoms. This is where we hear our inner self-talk repeat the words ‘I can’t cope’. This is not so helpful. As a result, we may choose to do all things necessary to avoid that anxiety-provoking situation rather than face it head-on. Responses such as these are often coined ‘emotional meltdowns’ and are often considered out of proportion to the situation.
All children experience anxiety as part of their normal childhood development.
But it’s estimated that between 8 to 22% of children experience anxiety more intensely and more often than other children. The consequence of experiencing intense anxiety is that it stops children getting the most out of life.
When we think about childhood development, we need to consider an individual’s age relative to the appropriateness of responses to anxiety-provoking situations. What may be considered appropriate in the early stages of development may be considered less appropriate when a child is a little bit older. Here’s an example, a fear of going to school could be considered relatively normal in Year 1. But what about the same fear in Year 5? Unless there are justifying circumstances of course.
What about persistent anxiety?
When the level of anxiety has persisted for at least 6 months and impacts significantly on a child’s life, it may warrant an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Anxiety disorders represent the most common form of psychological distress in childhood and youth (Cartwright-Hatton, McNicol, & Doubleday, 2006; as cited in Pahl & Barrett, 2010; Neil & Christensen, 2009; Rapee, Schniering & Hudson, 2009). Official prevalence rates for anxiety disorders range from 4% to 25% (Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin & Walters, 2005; Neil & Christensen, 2009) with up to 28.8% of children developing an anxiety disorder during their lifetime (Kessler, et al., 2005). Although statistics vary, gender differences appear to exist for the reported levels of anxiety disorders. Specifically, girls tend to report more anxiety disorders than boys.
Cartwright-Hatton, S., McNicol, K., & Doubleday, E. (2006). Anxiety in a neglected population: Prevalence of anxiety disorders in pre-adolescent children. Clinical Psychology Review, 26, 817-833.
Kessler, R., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., & Walters, E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593-602.
Neil, A. L., & Christensen, H. (2009). Efficacy and effectiveness of school-based intervention and early intervention programs for anxiety. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 208-215.
Pahl, K. M., & Barrett, P. M. (2007). The development of social-emotional competence in preschool aged children: An introduction of the Fun FRIENDS program. Australian Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 17(1), 81-90.
Rapee, R. M., Schniering, C. A., & Hudsoin, J. U. L. (2009). Anxiety disorders during childhood and adolescence: Origins and treatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 5, 311-341.