GENERALISED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD)
WHAT IS GENERALISED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD)?
All children suffer from fears at one time or another, this is normal. But when a fear creates feelings of overwhelming danger that are disproportionate to the actual situation, the child is most likely suffering from an anxiety disorder.
GAD is excessive fear related to various things, such as school or sports performance and catastrophes. Children with this disorder find it difficult to control their anxiety and stay focused. Sufferers try to avoid activities they believe they will not perform perfectly. If the situation can’t be avoided, the child becomes distressed.
Emotional symptoms of a child with generalised anxiety disorder may include:
· ongoing worry or fear over school or sports performance
· fear for family’s safety
· worrying about being on time
· fear of making mistakes
· need to do things perfectly
· fear of catastrophic events and natural disasters
· lack of confidence
· difficulty concentrating
· a sense of panic
Physiological symptoms may include:
· a racing heart
· difficulty breathing
· feeling weak
· difficulty sleeping
When generalised anxiety interferes with the child’s sleep, concentration, ability to have fun or function normally, intervention from a mental health professional is needed.
Predisposition - Some children are prone to being more anxious than others and are less capable of handling stress.
Genes - If the child comes from a long line of anxious people, chances are that the child will develop an anxiety disorder.
Environment - Situations that may be a factor in developing generalised anxiety in a child include:
· parents going through a divorce
· losing a family member or friend
· living with an ill or disabled family member
· living in a volatile home
· living with an anxious parent – the parent’s anxieties can be passed on
· attending a new school
· going through a traumatic experience or event
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT helps children recognise their thought patterns and identify where and when those patterns help and where they hurt. In other words, how we think and act affects how we feel. By incorporating Graded Exposure into CBT, the child slowly and systematically faces his fears and learns to better manage the symptoms of his anxiety. With practice the child gains mastery over fear and experiences reduced symptoms.
Dr. Madeleine Vieira's Anxiety Disorder Series, I'M AFRAID, introduces CBT techniques to help children overcome their anxiety disorders.
Priscilla Puppy Is Afraid of Everything! focuses on Generalised Anxiety. In this book, Priscilla Puppy wants to play her violin in the school talent show, but she’s afraid something will go wrong. To overcome her fear, she uses a stepladder process (i.e., Graded Exposure) to gradually expose herself to situations in which mistakes do happen. She starts with small steps and gradually builds up to more fearful situations.
In treatment, mental health professionals help children to control their generalised anxiety and uncomfortable feelings using specific techniques such as:
· Understanding that the imagined outcome associated with the anxietyisn’t realistic.
· Using self-talk to fight the fear. The child might tell himself that what he thinks will happen won’t actually happen.
· Using relaxation techniques. The child is taught to use controlled breathing exercises to help lessen anxious feelings.
· Using role-playing techniques, such as practicing worst-case outcomes. The mental health professional will help the child realisethat the outcomes are not possible or highly unlikely.
· Teaching the child he can manage his uncomfortable feelings successfully without avoidance. This takes time, repetition, and practice!
When a child’s generalised anxiety doesn’t fully respond to CBT, anti-anxiety medication prescribed by a child & adolescent psychiatrist may be beneficial.