We live in a time when anxiety levels are higher than ever. Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million American adults, or nearly one fifth of the population, every year. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, a presidential election, and rising racial and political tensions, these numbers may be even higher. According to a CDC survey, during the height of the pandemic in June 2020, 31% of respondents reported anxiety and depression symptoms.

But adults aren’t the only ones affected by the tumultuous events of the past year. About 1 in 12 children in the U.S. struggle with diagnosed anxiety and depression—not to mention the thousands, if not millions, who are undiagnosed. A report published by the CDC found that the suicide rate among Americans 10-24 years old rose by 56 percent from 2007 to 2017.

Mental health disorders in children can manifest in a variety of ways and may not always show up the same way they do for adults. Because children are not as self-aware or adept at expressing their feelings as adults, it is important to know the signs of anxiety in children so that it can be addressed before it escalates.

Here are 10 of the most common signs of anxiety in children:

  1. Sleep or appetite changes. Persistent or dramatic changes in sleep, appetite or weight are sometimes an indication of anxiety.
  2. Difficulty concentrating. Sometimes anxious children have difficulty concentrating on a specific task for a period of time.
  3. Low energy. A sudden drop in energy, interest, and desire to participate in social activities may be a symptom of an underlying anxiety disorder.
  4. Difficulty sleeping. Insomnia and difficulty staying asleep can indicate anxiety in children. If they are unable to relieve their anxiety during the day, it can keep them awake at night.
  5. Headaches. Sustained anxiety and untreated mental health issues can lead to headaches. If a child is experiencing headaches regularly, there may be an underlying mental health cause.
  6. Panic attacks. If a child is experiencing anxiety or panic attacks frequently, they likely have an anxiety disorder. Symptoms of these attacks include fast and shallow breathing, a fast heart rate, and dissociation.
  7. Heightened sensitivity. An elevated sensitivity to lights, sounds, touch or smell as well as irritability could be pointing to an anxiety disorder.
  8. Digestive issues. Our digestive systems are closely tied to our emotions, mood and mental health. Anxiety and other mental health issues can sometimes manifest as digestive problems.
  9. Constantly worrying. If a child seems regularly worried or fixated on a certain fear, such as the fear of getting sick, this can indicate an anxiety disorder.
  10. Refusal to go to school or social events. Often, children who experience social anxiety or another anxiety disorder will resist social or group situations, such as school or daycare.

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