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Anxiety Disorders


Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in America

Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in America. As many as one in ten children and adolescents are affected.

Anxiety disorders cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, and uneasy during situations in which most others would not experience these symptoms. The reason for anxiety is usually from an ill-defined, irrational, distant, or unrecognized source of danger.

Anxiety disorders in children can lead to poor school attendance, low self-esteem, deficient interpersonal skills, alcohol abuse, and adjustment difficulty.


  • Feeling shaky 
  • Fatigue 
  • Jumpiness 
  • Twitching 
  • Muscle aches 
  • Impatience 
  • Trembling 
  • Irritability 
  • Tension 
  • Upset stomach 
  • High heart rate 
  • Fear a bad thing will happen 
  • Worry 
  • Difficulty concentrating


Studies suggest that anxiety disorders tend to have both a biological and an environmental link. It has not been established; however, which plays the greater role in the development of these disorders.

Abnormalities in parts of the brain have been suggested as a cause of anxiety disorders; although no definite area in the brain has been proven to cause the disorders.

Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health and elsewhere have found that some cases of OCD occur following infection or exposure to streptococcus bacteria. Further research is being done in this area in order to pinpoint who is at greatest risk.


Medication is an effective treatment for anxiety disorders. Medications serve the purpose of reducing anxiety, relaxing muscles, and inducing sleep. It may take up to six or seven weeks before the medication shows its effectiveness.

Psychotherapy, in the form of behavior therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy, is an equally important and effective treatment for anxiety disorders. Cognitive-behavioral therapy involves teaching a young person to modify the way he/she thinks and behaves by practicing new behaviors. This enables the child to better deal with fears.

Parents and caregivers should learn to be understanding and patient when dealing with children with anxiety disorders.

Common types of Anxiety Disorders

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): GAD is characterized by chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday, routine life events and activities that lasts at least six months. Usually the worst is anticipated and often there are complaints of fatigue, tension, headaches, and nausea.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is characterized by repeated, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or rituals that seem impossible to control (compulsions). Younger children are not as aware that their symptoms are excessive. They instead may only feel distressed when they are prevented from carrying out their compulsive habits. Adolescents may be aware that their symptoms do not make sense and are excessive. Compulsive behaviors often include counting, arranging and rearranging objects, and excessive hand washing.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is characterized by nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression, feeling angry, irritable and distracted, and being easily startled. Symptoms of this disorder may occur after experiencing a trauma such as abuse, natural disasters, or extreme violence.

Suggested Readings

  • Mending Minds, by Heston, Leonard 
  • Triumph Over Fear, by Ross, Jerilyn 
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Guide, by University of Wisconsin 
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, by Levenkron, Steven 
  • The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing, by Rapoport, Judith

This information was provided by:
National Alliance on Mental Illness-Iowa

5911 Meredith Drive, Ste. E

Des Moines, Iowa 50322-1903
Phone: (515) 254-0417
    (800) 417-0417