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Anxiety: myths and facts

Anxious much?
Anxious much?getty images

Do you have a child who suffers from anxiety or excessive worry? Being a school counselor, I am noticing that more and more of our students are coming to school plagued with moderate to severe anxiety. Quite a few have been clinically diagnosed, and a few are on medications.

In the school environment, the most common diagnoses we see are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) - This can make a child very hard on him or herself; constantly striving for perfection and seeking reassurance. Sometimes we assume this pressure comes from parents, but with an anxiety disorder, the parent is not likely the culprit. This is driven by the child, and often he or she does not understand why.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder – a social phobia wherein a child is absolutely terrified of being singled out for anything at all – being called on in class, giving a presentation or even initiating conversation with peers. In severe cases, these seemingly simple school behaviors can bring on panic attacks or physical symptoms
  • School phobia/separation anxiety – This is very common in the early years of school, but can resurface in times of transition to a new school, or if there has been an unpleasant incident in school. A child with tendencies towards anxiety will magnify something that might seem insignificant and exacerbate his or her own fears.

Although medications are an option at some point, most anxiety is within one’s power to control. There are some myths out there and some facts that may be helpful to know if you or your child is suffering from anxiety.

  • Myth: Snap a rubber band on your wrist every time you have a disturbing thought.
  • Fact: Once popular, but recent studies show that suppressing your thoughts makes them stronger and more frequent.
  • Myth: If a panic attack gets too bad, you can pass out or lose complete control.
  • Fact: Highly unlikely – blood pressure has to fall for you to faint. During a panic attack, it actually rises slightly.
  • Myth: If you have an anxiety disorder, you should avoid stressful situations.
  • Fact: Treating yourself as a fragile being and avoiding risk leads to that very feeling. Avoiding anxiety tends to reinforce it. You can still do what you have to do whether you are anxious or not.
  • Myth: Causes of anxiety are rooted in childhood, so one must have therapy that focuses on that time period.
  • Fact: No matter the cause, research shows that effective therapy focuses on the present, not the past – skills to manage the presenting thoughts, emotions, and behavior in the here and now.
  • Myth: Medication is the only answer.
  • Fact: Cognitive behavior therapy can be just as or more effective than medication for most people. People can be taught to manage their emotions.
  • Myth: One must have an enormous amount of compassionate reassurance from all parties who provide assistance in avoiding stress.
  • Fact: Well-meaning friends and family can inadvertently get caught up in the anxiety by reassuring to the point of maintaining or reinforcing the fears by keeping the person from facing them. Gentle encouragement to move through the anxiety is more helpful than avoidance.

If your child suffers from anxiety in the school setting, it is important to talk with the teachers about the problems. Remember that staying at school is always the goal and rescuing your child will in the long run, become a handicap. Worrywise kids has some excellent strategies and accommodations for both parents and teachers

Most school anxieties can be overcome with time and patience. It is important to recognize difficulties but just as important to help a child move through them instead of allowing them to remain stuck. Fear is powerful, but often unwarranted. Learning coping strategies early on is usually the best thing you can do for yourself or your child.

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