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A condition of persistent nervousness, stress, and worry that is triggered by anticipation of future events, memories of past events, or ruminations about the self
Stimulated by real or imagined dangers, anxiety affects people of all ages and social backgrounds. When it occurs in unrealistic situations or with unusual intensity, it can disrupt everyday life. Some researchers believe anxiety is synonymous with fear, occurring in varying degrees and in situations in which people feel threatened by some danger. Others describe anxiety as an unpleasant emotion caused by unidentifiable dangers or dangers that, in reality, pose no threat. Unlike fear, which is caused by realistic, known dangers, anxiety can be more difficult to identify and alleviate.
A small amount of anxiety is normal in the developing child, especially in adolescents and teens. Anxiety is often a realistic response to new roles and responsibilities, as well as to sexual and identity development. When symptoms become extreme, disabling, and/or when a child or adolescent experiences several symptoms over a period of a month or more, they may be a sign of an anxiety disorder and professional intervention may be necessary. The two forms of childhood anxiety are overanxious disorder and separation anxiety, although many physicians and psychologists also include panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which tend to occur more frequently in adults. Anxiety that is the result of experiencing a violent event, disaster, or physical abuse is identified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Most adult anxiety disorders begin in adolescence or young adulthood, and are more common among women than men.
Psychological symptoms of anxiety include tension; self-consciousness; fearfulness; self-doubt; worry; constant need for reassurance; distractibility; feeling as if one is about to have a heart attack, die, or go insane; irritability; and insomnia. Physical symptoms include rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, muscle aches (from tension), dry mouth, headache, stomach distress, diarrhea, constipation, frequent urination, hot flashes or chills, throat constriction (lump in the throat), and fatigue. Anxiety symptoms are very similar to those of depression, and as many as 50% of children with anxiety will also suffer from depression. Generally, physiological hyperarousal—excitedness, shortness of breath, the "fight or flight" response—characterizes anxiety disorders; whereas underarousal—lack of pleasure and feelings of guilt—characterizes depression. Other signs of anxiety problems are poor school performance, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, obsession about appearance or weight, social phobias (e.g., fear of walking into a room full of people), and the persistence of imaginary fears after ages six to eight. Shyness does not necessarily indicate a disorder, unless it interferes with normal activities and occurs with other symptoms. A small proportion of children do experience avoidant disorder, incapacitating shyness that persists for months or more, which should be treated. Similarly, performance anxiety experienced before athletic, academic, or theatrical events does not indicate a disorder, unless it significantly interferes with the activity.
Author Info: , Thomson Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Childhood and Adolescence, 1998This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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