Recognising Signs of Anxiety

Improving Mental Health and Wellbeing for Young People with Autism, ADHD and Learning DisabilitiesOur new three part Cerebra Anxiety Guide: A Guide for Parents has been developed to give up to date information on how to spot the signs of anxiety and anxiety disorders in children with an intellectual disability and looks at what can be done to help.

This is the first in a series of articles taking extracts from the guide and will be looking at recognising the signs of anxiety. The full Anxiety Guide can be downloaded free of charge here.

Anxiety and fear are our body’s built-in response to danger – our alarm system. When we are anxious or fearful our hearts beat faster and blood is directed to our muscles so that we are ready to protect ourselves from the danger by either ‘fighting’ or ‘fleeing’. We experience ‘fear’ when we have to tackle an immediate threat (e.g. getting out of a burning house); however, anxiety is experienced when we anticipate that something threatening might happen in the future (i.e, moving to a new home).

Signs of anxiety

There are many different signs that someone may be feeling anxious. These can be changes in the person’s body; changes to thoughts/thinking patterns; changes to emotions; changes to behaviour:

Changes to the body:
  • fast and irregular heartbeat
  • sweating
  • tiredness
  • muscle tension
  • dizziness
  • trembling
  • pale complexion
  • stomach aches
  • nausea
Changes to thoughts/ thinking patterns:
  • inability to concentrate
  • repetitive thoughts about perceived threat
  • concerns about losing control
  • inability to relax
Changes to emotions:
  • irritability
  • feeling worried
  • distress
  • crying
Changes to behaviour:
  • avoiding situations
  • fidgeting/ moving more than usual

Children and individuals with mild communication impairments often have difficulty describing their emotions despite having some speech, so may describe physical symptoms such as stomach aches or feeling sick. As many of the signs of anxiety overlap with signs of physical health difficulties, it is very important to always ensure that a health problem is not underpinning your child’s behaviour and emotions and if you are in any doubt, contact your GP or paediatrician.

Further information about assessing whether your child may be experiencing pain can be found in Cerebra’s Pain guide.

Dr Jane Waite, Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist at the Cerebra Centre for Neurodevelopmental Disorders will be talking about how to spot the signs of anxiety disorders as well as what can be done at our conference on Improving Mental Health and Well-being for Young People with Autism, ADHD and Learning Disabilities.