Is It Stress or Anxiety?
Everyone experiences stress or anxiety at some point in their lives. You might be dealing with finances, a job interview, or moving. Your child may be facing a high-stakes test, the first day at a new school, or performing on stage. How can you tell the difference between stress and anxiety? Moreover, how do you know if your child needs help with dealing with anxiety? If they do, then what?
My friend, Amanda, came to me one day about her son, Jack. He is one of those super sweet and charming kids who happens to also be a good student. Amanda shared with me that Jack was throwing up every single night. They had been to at least a half dozen doctors trying to get to the bottom of what was going on but no one could figure it out. He was happy and had lots of friends. His mom wondered if stress and anxiety could be the source because although he was naturally bright, there is a lot of pressure for all kids to keep up. Even though Jack didn’t say he was anxious, his mom realized that his stomach aches were likely a sign that he was at a minimum stressed out. Amanda also wondered if Neurofeedback could help him, so Jack began a course of neurofeedback to help tame his nerves and stop his anxious stomach. Luckily for Jack, from the day he began, he stopped throwing up. She realized that those stomach aches and body tension were clear indicators of anxiety that many physicians missed. Amanda also began to notice that Jack became more affectionate with his parents and siblings. He just seemed to be his best self – calm, focused, and able to more quickly get through his work. Fast forward seven years later, Jack is off to college on a full scholarship and most importantly is a happy and healthy young adult.
Stress vs. Anxiety Disorder
Stress and anxiety are words that get misused frequently. Often because they seem interchangeable, yet they are not. Sure, stress and anxiety do have overlap in that they both evoke the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ response. Even some of the physical symptoms are similar, but stress and anxiety are very different.
Stress is a healthy and natural response to challenges or frustrations. Anxiety, however, interferes with our daily functioning because the anxious feelings or behavioral symptoms are disproportionate to the real or imagined worry or issue. Since anxiety lingers, children or teens (and adults!) often experience looping or spinning thoughts.
What is Stress?
Causes of stress and anxiety are different. Stress is your body's response to an external trigger. For some, it may be dealing with social issues, reading out loud in class, or taking the bus. Stress grows from external pressures and expectations, which make coping with a situation challenging. Stressed adults often know the cause; children may not. Symptoms of stress typically dissipate once the stressful situation resolves.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety occurs when it interferes with their functioning in some way. It prevents them from concentrating in school, and even causes them to avoid talking to others or leaving the house. The source can be real or imagined but it is a significant issue causing distress. At this point, anxiety becomes a disorder.
How Common is Anxiety?
It’s important to know that if you or your child are dealing with anxiety, it is no one’s fault. In fact, in today’s achievement centered, perpetually connected society anxiety has become a common struggle, especially for children and teens. Research indicates that 8.3 percent of teens aged 13-18 have an Anxiety Disorder classifying as severe impairment range with the average onset age listed six-years-old. In the U.S., Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness, affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
Anxiety crosses into a disorder when it is irrational, overwhelming, and out of proportion with the challenge faced. It creates feelings of helplessness and lack of control over your emotions. The DSM categorizes Anxiety Disorders in detail, but some key features are excessive anxiety and worry, and struggles with controlling worried thoughts.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Several disorders, varying by primary symptom, are classified as an Anxiety Disorder. No single anxiety disorder test exists. Additionally, comorbidity is common with anxiety disorders. Many people experience multiple types of anxiety. Some even experience depression or attention issues, as well. Often, symptoms of depression and anxiety look similar or persistent anxiety can lead to depression, which is why parents should seek professional support.
Is OCD an Anxiety Disorder?
Although earlier editions of the DSM grouped Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) under the same section, the fifth edition separated them. OCD is now considered a related condition. This is because an OCD diagnosis incorporates unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions). Often it is the anxiety leading to compulsive behaviors but they can have just obsessive thinking. Individuals engage in compulsive behaviors attempting to end the obsessions, decrease distress, or prevent bad things from happening. Obsessive thinking is much more common than people realize because the symptoms are internal. Children may show signs of obsessive thinking when they ask questions over and over and need frequent reassurances.
Anxiety disorder causes children significant distress or impairs their ability to function, to learn, or relate to others normally. It's essential to understand the signs and symptoms of anxiety for early intervention.
Emotional and Behavioral Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety symptoms can persist for an extended period, or frequently come and go. Common emotional symptoms include:
- Excessive worry
- Trouble going or staying asleep
- Frequent nightmares
- Difficulty concentrating
- Overly sensitive
- Cries easily and frequently
- Emotional lability (up and down emotionally)
- Anger or rage
- Long tantrums or meltdowns
- Lack of self-confidence
- Separation anxiety
- Constantly seeks approval
- Rituals, compulsions, obsessions
- Perfectionistic tendencies
- Negative talk or a tendency to think the worst
- Sensory processing difficulties
- Social avoidance or difficulties
- Attention or focus problems
- Gets distracted by worried thoughts
- Fear of speaking in public or to strangers
- Low frustration tolerance
- Frequent erasing of work
- Won’t turn in school work
- Test anxiety
- Avoids new experiences
- Says, “No” all the time
- Worries about things in the future
- Hyperverbal looping of worries (e.g., says “Why did she do that” over and over)
Physical Signs of Anxiety
Anxiety is more than a feeling. It causes physical symptoms and may be mistaken for a medical illness. Parents may make numerous visits to doctors and hospitals before recognizing the symptoms of anxiety.
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty relaxing
- Physical pain
- Stomach aches
- Red face in social situations
- Hives or skin conditions (unexplained)
- Hair loss (unexplained)
- Excessive sweating
- Holding of bladder or bowels
- Frequent urination
- Hyperactive behavior
- Sleep problems
There’s no shortage of different ways to treat anxiety. The best way to address anxiety is to address it early and start with natural treatments such as neurofeedback and psychotherapy. These therapies are more effective than any medication and doesn’t come with side-effects.
Too often, medicine is recommended for clinical issues instead of natural therapies. There are several effective natural remedies for anxiety such as changes in diet (anti-inflammatory), exercise, improving sleep, homeopathy, supplements, and working with a naturopathic physician to address nutrient deficiencies and genetic issues, as well as irritants to the system.
Giving your child help they need to manage their anxiety is the gift of a lifetime. In today’s increasingly stressful world of information overload with little mental or physical downtime, anxiety disorders are on the rise. Our culture has normalized high levels of stress, but our brains and bodies aren’t designed to sustain that, as evidenced by the dramatic increase in mental health conditions amongst our children.
As a parent, it can be overwhelming determining how to treat your child’s anxiety, but effective clinical treatments exist as well as natural supplements. Supporting your child or teen in changing how they view and manage their anxiety can be less daunting with the assistance of licensed mental health professional.
Neurofeedback Research for Anxiety
If you’re a worried parent, and you want to see your child go from a stressed-out mess to a happy and calm child. Take a few minutes and speak with one of our client specialists or come to one of our free workshops. Your child and their future are worth it.
Call our center today to discuss how we can help you or your child with our clinically effective and natural therapies, such as neurofeedback or biofeedback, addressing ADHD, anxiety, depression, and numerous other conditions. We also offer counseling, executive functioning coaching and behavioral support for children and families, and parent coaching sessions with our staff psychotherapists. To set up an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Roseann, or to meet with one of our psychotherapists,
call: 203.438.4848 or email: [email protected].
Live out of state? We work with children, individuals, and families through our intensive therapies program “The 360° Reboot® Program”.
Dr. Roseann is a Psychologist and Therapist and our center provide expert-level care for children, adults, and families from all over the US, supporting them with research-based and holistic therapies that are bridged with neuroscience. She is a Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS) and Epidemic Answers, Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach. She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), Connecticut Counseling Association (CCA), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).
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