Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders in children and adolescents include separation anxiety, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post traumatic stress disorder (APA 2013). Children with anxiety disorders typically experience intense fear, worry or uneasiness that can last for long periods of time and significantly affect their lives. Repeated absences from school, impaired relations with peers, low self-esteem, problems adjusting to transitions, and anxiety disorders in later adulthood may all be a facet of the disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by unrealistic worry about everyday life activities. Children worry unduly about academic performance, of being on time, or feelings of self-consciousness. Typically these children will feel tense, and will have a strong need for reassurance. They may complain of physical ailments like stomach aches or headaches.

Separation anxiety disorder is usually seen as a difficulty in leaving parents to attend school or sleep away activities, or in being alone. Often these children cling to their parents and have trouble falling asleep.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) refers to a condition where individuals are trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviours (APA, 2013). Even though the individual may recognize that his or her thoughts or behaviours may seem senseless and distressing, it is a very hard pattern to stop. Compulsive behaviours may include hand washing, rearranging objects, and or repeated checking (APA, 2013).

Panic disorder is a condition of repeated “panic attacks” without an apparent cause (APA 2013). Panic attacks are periods of intense fear accompanied by a pounding heartbeat, sweating, dizziness, or feeling of imminent death. Children with this condition may go to great lengths to avoid situations that may provoke an attack. This may be seen as a school related situation or a separation from parents.

Phobias are unrealistic and excessive fears of certain situations or objects (APA 2013). The disorder typically centers on animals, storms, water, heights or being in enclosed spaces. Children will understandably try to avoid the objects or situations they fear, greatly restricting their lives.

Post traumatic stress disorder. Children develop post-traumatic stress after they experience events such as physical or sexual abuse, being a victim of or witnessing violence, or living through a disaster such as a hurricane or bombing. The incident may trigger re-experiencing the event, strong memories, flashbacks or other troubling thoughts. As a result individuals may overreact when startled, have difficulty sleeping or avoid any associations with the trauma.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

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