Anxiety Reaction (Child)

Stress and anxiety are part of life. It's normal for children to have a few worries. But some children and teens have a lot of fear, worry, or panic. They can't control their anxiety. This causes great distress. This is called an anxiety reaction. Extreme fear reactions are called panic attacks. Anxiety seems to have both mental and physical triggers. It also tends to run in families. This may mean it's linked to genes. It may mean that the behavior is learned at home.

An anxiety reaction may cause:

  • Chest pain

  • Agitation

  • A lot of crying

  • A fast pulse

  • Sweating

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Tense muscles

  • Shortness of breath

  • Very fast breathing

  • Dry mouth

  • Needing to pee a lot

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Trouble focusing and remembering

Anxiety often occurs with other mental health problems. They may include:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Depression

Anxiety is treated with counseling. It is sometimes treated with medicine. A child with anxiety will likely have it again if it's not treated.

Home care

Medicine

The child's healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to treat anxiety. Follow the provider's instructions for giving this medicine to your child. Don't change the dose or stop the medicine unless the provider tells you to.

General care

  • Don’t ignore your child’s fears. Encourage your child to talk about their concerns. Be supportive. Don't yell at them to stop worrying. This does not help. It can make things worse.

  • Work with your child's school team. Create support strategies if your child's anxiety causes problems in school.

  • Encourage your child to ask for help when they feel overwhelmed.

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

  • Promote exercise and fun activities. Practice healthy behaviors that can help distract your child in an episode of extreme anxiety. An example is playing relaxing music.

  • Note your child’s behavior in different situations. Write down what you notice. This can help the provider give your child the best care.

  • 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.

  • Schedule individual and family counseling as advised.

Follow-up care

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

Call 911

Call 911 if your child:

  • Has trouble breathing

  • Is very confused, agitated, or irritable

  • Is very drowsy or has trouble awakening

  • Faints

  • Has a fast 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 get medical care

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

  • Anxiety, fear, or panic that don't stop

  • Trouble doing daily tasks

  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Threats of suicide or self-harm

  • Any behavior that causes concern

© 2000-2022 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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