Anxiety is a natural, normal and harmless emotion. Anxiety becomes problematic when it begins to prevent or interfere with a child’s ability to engage in and enjoy daily activities. Anxiety disorders represent the most prevalent mental health disorder in children and teens, with approximately one in eight children experiencing an anxiety disorder.
Children can experience anxiety disorders consisting of:
- generalized anxiety disorderseparation anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- specific phobias
- social anxiety disorder
- and selective mutism
Children can also experience related disorders of:
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- and posttraumatic stress disorder
While the causes of anxiety disorders are still being understood, they are known to be related to a combination of interacting biological and environmental risk factors.
Biological risk factors include:
- a genetic predisposition for anxiety
- neurobiological factors
- neuroendocrine factors
- preexisting medical conditions
- and preexisting psychiatric conditions
Early biological risk factors can present as behavioral inhibition in children. Behavioral inhibition is defined as an individual’s tendency to show fear and withdraw when faced with new or unfamiliar situations.
In addition to biological risk factors, anxiety disorders have also been associated with environmental factors. These include exposure to stressful life events and specific care-provider behaviors in response to environmental cues, such as modeling of anxiety and over-control. It is important to note that environmental factors alone do not cause anxiety disorders in children. These environmental factors are believed to interact with biological vulnerabilities in the development and maintenance of anxiety disorders.
There are many evidence-based treatments that have been developed to treat anxiety disorders in children. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication management or a combination of both.
Written by Joshua Rosenthal, PsyD