Anxiety Reaction (Child)

Stress and anxiety are part of life. It's normal for children to have a few worries. However, some children and teens have excessive feelings of fear, worry, or panic. They can't control their anxiety, which causes great distress. This is called an anxiety reaction. Extreme fear reactions are called panic attacks. Anxiety seems to have both psychological and physical triggers. It also tends to run in families. This can suggest a genetic link or that the behavior is learned in the home.

An anxiety reaction may cause:

  • Chest pain

  • Agitation

  • Excessive crying

  • A racing pulse

  • Sweating

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Muscle tension

  • Shortness of breath

  • Hyperventilating (fast breathing)

  • Dry mouth

  • Frequent urination

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Trouble concentrating and remembering

Anxiety often occurs with other mental health problems, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression.

Anxiety is treated with supportive counseling and sometimes medicine. A child with anxiety will likely have a recurrence if the condition is not addressed.

Home care

Medicine

The child's doctor may prescribe medicine to treat anxiety. Follow the doctor’s instructions for giving these medicines to your child. Don't stop this medicine without first consulting the child’s doctor.

General care

  • Don’t ignore your child’s fears. Encourage your child to talk about his or her concerns. Be supportive. Yelling at them to stop worrying does not help and can make things worse.

  • Encourage your child to ask for help when he or she is feeling overwhelmed.

  • Teach your child to breathe slowly and deeply when anxiety occurs.

  • Encourage exercise and fun activities. Encourage healthy behaviors that can help distract your child during an episode of extreme anxiety, such as listening to relaxing music.

  • Note your child’s behavior in different situations. This record can help your doctor provide the best care.

  • Also note your own behavior leading up to the time your child has a reaction. Your state of mind and behavior may give clues to your child's behavior. Be calm and reassuring with your child.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as advised. .

Call 911

Call 911 if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing

  • Is very confused, agitated, irritable

  • Is very drowsy or has trouble awakening

  • Faints or has loss of consciousness

  • Has a rapid heart rate

  • Has a seizure

  • Is suicidal, has a clear suicide plan, and has the means to carry out the plan. Don't leave your child alone.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Continued anxiety, fear, or panic

  • Inability to function

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Threats of suicide or self-harm

  • Any behavior that causes concern

© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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