In the net of anxiety disorder
Mental illnesses pose a wide-spread problem in Hungary and all over Europe. Research has been carried out in the European Union, as well as in Switzerland, Norway and Iceland on the topic, which prove that the number of Europeans suffering from a mental illness is around 164 million - 38% of the total population. The most common problem is anxiety disorder, which affects 14% of the population. I talked to Reka Vidomusz psychologist about the appearance of anxiety as well as its symptoms and effects.
Around what age does anxiety typically appear?
Normally, it appears when babies become 8-9 months old, but it is a completely natural process. Probably everybody has heard of the expression "the anxiety of the 8 month-old". This is an anxiety that ideally each infant goes through. It evolves in the process of learning to distinguish amongst the people they prefer to surround themselves with and the strangers against whom they will have to develop self-protection instincts. We can primarily perceive this fear through the communication of the infant: they cry, they freeze down, get scared and turn away.
The moment that anxiety can get problematic is when the child is placed into a bigger community. It can be a nursery, kindergarten or even a school. Here, a completely new community is created, which can influence the child's behaviour and personality.
What factors can evoke anxiety?
Anxiety has several types, which can be influenced by a person's age as well. Children of different ages experience different life situations that may evoke stress or fear.
For a child at kindergarten the fear of being injured might evoke anxiety. "I am scared of falling!", " "I am scared that mum will get hurt!", "I am scared of hitting my head!". Whereas, at a school age, anxiety comes to the surface in a different way. As the child develops, they want to live up to the expectations more and more. They want to live up to the expectations of their mum or of their teacher. This can cause anxiety as well, which often goes hand-in-hand with achievement-orientedness, which means that anxiety strengthens when it comes to an assignment.
With teenagers, this increases further, achievement pressure strengthens and moves in the direction of peers. At the base of this is the search for identity, the wish to belong somewhere and if they are blocked in this, then anxiety can evolve.
What types of anxiety exist?
At a younger school age, the above-mentioned achievement-related anxiety is more common. At an older age, social anxiety is more dominant. It can develop in strange situations, amongst new people. It is important to keep in mind that not all kinds of anxieties require professional help, since everybody gets anxious in certain situations. It is important to understand when it starts inhibiting the child or adult from functioning normally in their everyday life, whether it is about work or a free time activity.
Are there any concrete symptoms of anxiety? How can a parent notice it?
For the parents, it can be a tell-tale sign if the child does not want to go to school, especially if they are at primary school. This is called school phobia and in most cases, it originated from achievement-anxiety, but another reason for it can be problems settling into the class. If a child does not want to get up even if they went to bed early or they take a long time getting ready in the morning and are almost late from school, then it is worth keeping an eye on them.
Anxiety often has vegetative symptoms, which can be noticed by the immediate, as well as the more remote environment. If the child gets into a situation that evokes a strong stress reaction in them and that they would like to avoid, then they start sweating, their hands start shaking, they become pale and their heart starts beating fast.
Secondly, genetics and the influence of the environment are also factors that must be taken into consideration. It is important to know that anxiety is heritable. Therefore, if somebody in the family suffered from anxiety, their child will not necessarily be affected, but the chance of vulnerability is there. However, this is affected by personality, by behaviour and by the environment.
If severe anxiety develops, it can easily turn into panic reaction, which is also responsible for further vegetative symptoms, like fainting, sickness, vomiting, etc.
It is also important to mention that anxiety itself can evoke obsessive symptoms both at the level of thought and action. In this case, the young person tries to avoid the situations that evoke this reaction in them or they develop over-cautiousness in the form of controlling certain things, pondering the same thoughts all over again or in the form of redoing certain actions.
Can the detachment from the mother and the adjustment to a new community evoke anxiety in the child?
In this case, we are talking about separational anxiety. It is a natural reaction if the detachment starts when the kids start going to nursery or kindergarten. In these cases, they start crying, they stick to the wall so that they can see their mums. Then they slowly calm down and in favourable conditions, start turning to their friends. It is important for parents to follow the principle of gradual separation and not to have unrealistic expectations towards their children, since it is very hard for them to get used to the fact that the person who was always there next to them is suddenly leaving. They start worrying that their mum leaves and will never come back or that they will have an accident. The strength, length and outcome of the separational anxiety can be influenced by the child-parent bond pattern as well. Those children who have a healthy bond to their mother usually undergo this process in a natural way.
However, if the child is suffering from separational anxiety at the age of 10-11, then it is already something to worry about as at this stage the child should be mature enough to deal with it. In these cases, it must be taken into consideration that in the background, there might be complex problems, e.g. problems in the family, divorce, death, etc.
Can you recommend some techniques that can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety?
First of all, it is important to know what evokes the strange or changed behaviour of the child. Try to remember what happened to them. There are some life events that can cause temporary anxiety, for example moving houses or starting school.
Secondly, parents must know that as the child's personality keeps changing and as they get older, they have more skills to deal with these situations and their problem-solving strategies improve. They find it easier to deal with problems and take less time to get over them.
If the parents feel that the anxiety of the child or young person is so large-scale that it prevents them from living a healthy life, then they must turn to a specialist. After evaluating the problem, they will decide about the methods. Some frequently-used methods are behavioural therapy, family therapy, game therapy, psychodrama and even relaxation. These are all excellent psychotherapies for relieving and stopping anxiety.
Written by Zsófia Tupi
Translated by Judit Molnár