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Anxiety in Young People

Last week we spoke about chronic low mood in kids, and where this comes from. This week I’d like to look more closely at anxiety and how this presents in our young people. As adults, we know that anxiety presents as excessive worry; rumination; irritability; feeling overwhelmed; and physical symptoms; as well as a myriad of other symptoms. However, as adults we are better placed to articulate what is going on for us (that is, we tend to know when we are worrying about something). Little people often haven’t developed the self-awareness or language skills to express these difficulties, so tonight I am going to break down some common presentations of anxiety in children.

First we have possibly the most common one – emotion dysregulation and irritability. Children (and often young children) can often demonstrate emption dysregulation as they learn to manage their feelings. However, it can also be a sign of anxiety. For example, if your child regularly becomes distressed at the prospect of a parent going to work, this may reflect separation anxiety. A child overly distressed at kindergarten, or really cranky at the end of the day (for the older kids) but not otherwise demonstrating issues separating from parents may be experiencing difficulties with peers. An otherwise academically-competent teen who becomes an emotional wreck before an exam may be placing more pressure on themselves than we realise.

Second there is illness. Not the “snotty and miserable” kind of illness, but the type that is harder to define. Sometimes it presents as a headache; other times it can be an upset stomach. Other times it can present as vomiting or dizziness. As adults we know that we can get “butterflies” or “stress headaches” however our little people often haven’t developed an understanding of linking physical symptoms to emotions. Often when anxiety manifests in this way, it will likely present in a similar way (that is, there is often a “theme” to the physical complaint). Does your child always feel “sick” on a school day? Do they always seem to get a headache in certain situations? If there are no underlying medical conditions, it may be a sign of anxiety.

The last symptom we are going to discuss is maladaptive self-soothing behaviours. This may present as (but aren’t limited to) nail and skin picking; teeth grinding; hair-pulling or excessive exercise. These behaviours can often serve as distractions from the worrying situations; and lessening the impact of whatever is causing the anxiety. These behaviours can also be a way of expending the adrenaline that comes along with anxiety.

If your child is demonstrating behaviours that seem out of character, it might be a good time to come in for a chat.

If you are interested in discussing any of the points further or would like to hear about a particular topic, we would be more than happy to hear from you. Feel free to send an email to and we will answer any questions you may have.

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