Anxiety in Children

Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat. Obviously, these two states overlap, but they also differ, with fear more often associated with surges of autonomic arousal necessary for fight or flight, thoughts of immediate danger, and escape behaviors, and anxiety more often associated with muscle tension and vigilance in preparation for future danger and cautious or avoidant behaviors. (APA 2013)

Anxiety disorders in children and young people are very common, and are often associated with long-term mental health problems which persist into adulthood (Creswell et al, 2014). Anxiety is a part of life for everyone and some anxiety is essential because it helps us to act to protect ourselves and ensure our safety. However, anxiety can become overwhelming, and the symptoms that arise as a result can persist long after the anxiety provoking situation has ended. When this happens, it can cause distress and have a significant impact on the mental health of children and young people.

Anxiety disorders are characterised by excessive fear, anxiety and worry about events or activities and this happens more often than not for a child and continues for at least six months (APA 2013). The anxiety or worry, or physical symptoms that arise as a result, can cause significant distress to a child or young person and affect their quality of life and ability to function day to day (APA 2013).

Children and young people with a generalised anxiety disorder can feel restless and on edge much of the time. They may be tired and irritable, have problems sleeping, find it hard to concentrate and be unable to control of deal effectively with their worries (APA 2013). In young children the anxiety may be more likely to show itself as physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, headache or stomach ache (James 2015).  Angry outbursts, tantrums, crying and ‘freezing’ with fear are also common symptoms in children.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists seven anxiety disorders (APA, 2013):

Useful links for families and carers.  

Anxiety UK 08444 775774

No panic 0844 967 4848

OCD Action 0845 390 6232


CBT Online