Overview:

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is a condition characterized by pervasive, unwarranted worry about a variety of everyday things—worrying too much about everything. In children the anxiety is often focused on performance in school or sports and may drive extreme studying or practicing.

Symptoms:

  • Worries incessantly about everything, but particularly over her own performance in school or other activities, or her ability to meet expectations
  • Frequently seeks reassurance in an attempt to assuage her fears and worries
  • Anxiety can make her rigid, irritable and restless
  • Stress can lead to physical symptoms, including fatigue, stomachaches, and headaches
  • Fears are exaggerated but they tend to focus on tangible, real-life issues
  • Unlike adults, children with GAD may not recognize that their fears are outsize.

Treatment:

  • GAD is often treated with behavioral therapy called exposure with response prevention, in which a clinician exposes a child to things that provoke her anxieties and teach her techniques to manage and reduce the anxiety response.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy involves teaching the child to recognize how her thinking contributes to anxiety, and to understand that her anxiety response is out of proportion to the things that trigger it. This is referred to in some circles as “decatastrophizing.”
  • GAD often responds very well to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Anti-anxiety drugs are often prescribed if these do not provide the desired result.
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