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Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Children and teens with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience excessive and uncontrollable worry about future events and minor matters. This can include worry about health of self and family, money matters, the environment, state of affairs at a local, country or global level, parents’ marital satisfaction or family stability, academic or athletic performance, punctuality, and more.

Worry is considered excessive and uncontrollable when your child is worrying more than his or her peers, and if he or she cannot stop worrying once it has started. This worry occurs most days and is accompanied by at least three or more physical symptoms such as fatigue, feeling amped up, trouble concentrating, irritability, muscle tension, and sleep difficulties. Although all youth sometimes experience worry about a range of events and activities, for youth with GAD this worry is excessive, ongoing, uncontrollable, physically draining, and significantly negatively impacts the quality of life of the child and family.

Facts

  • Approximately 1% of adolescents will have GAD in any given year
  • Girls are twice as more likely to have GAD than boys
  • There are several factors that are related to the onset of GAD including children who are inhibited (or more cautious or slow to warm up to new situations), see the glass as half empty, have over protective parents, and dislike risk
  • Left untreated GAD is unlikely to lessen or go away, and as children mature into adulthood, GAD can create moderate to severe impairment in life functioning

Signs & Symptoms

Thoughts

(Note: very young children may be unable to identify specific fear thoughts):

  • What if something bad happens to mom or dad?
  • What if there was an earthquake and the house got destroyed?
  • What if grandma doesn’t pick me up after school?
  • What if the ozone layer keeps getting thinner?
  • What if I get cancer?
  • What if I don’t get into university?
  • What if someone breaks into our house while we are out?

Physical feelings:

  • Fidgety, amped up, unable to sit still
  • Irritable
  • Tired
  • Muscle pains (often in the neck and shoulders)
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches

Emotions:

  • Anxiety/worry
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Shame
  • Guilt

Behaviors:

  • Tantrums
  • Snapping at others
  • Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or disturbed/interrupted sleep
  • Excessive studying
  • Reassurance seeking
  • Excessive or unreasonable list making
  • Procrastinating
  • School refusal

AREAS Common situations or affected areas

  • School absenteeism
  • Refusing to attend school field trips
  • Inability to make and maintain friendships due to fears
  • General decline in quality of life
  • Less involved in activities and limited interests
  • Unusual or overly focused interests often related to areas of worry
  • Frequent checking about current affairs, becoming an expert on identifying diseases, etc.

How a GAD impacts the child at different ages:

For younger children with GAD they typically worry about straightforward and immediate matters such as their academic performance, safety of their family, and fitting in or being liked. In addition, they are more likely to complain about physical symptoms instead of specific worries: sore muscles, sleep problems, stomach or head aches. For example, the day before a school project your child might complain of stomachache and wanting to stay home rather than saying, “I’m afraid to go to school because I think I will do badly on my project.” As children get older, their thinking becomes more complex, so their worries might become more abstract or focus further into the future. For example, “What if global warming affects my family when I grow up and have children?” In addition, the negative impact of the ongoing, constant worry becomes more apparent the older the child gets. Parents, teachers, and other adults are able to see that their teen “looks” different than their same aged peers, when their child is spending hours and hours on a project, appears exhausted, or refuses to participate in recreational activities or hang out with friends because of fears of academic failure or a limited future at a second tier university.

My Anxiety Plan (MAPs)

MAP is designed to provide children/teens struggling with anxiety with practical strategies and tools to manage anxiety. To find out more, visit our My Anxiety Plan website.

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