Early Signs of Childhood Anxiety

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Although I’ve lived with mental illness my whole life, I am not a medical professional. If you need help finding a mental health care provider, call 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or visit BetterHelp to talk to a certified therapist online at an affordable price. This post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclaimer.

I felt like no one could understand my tears. I couldn’t justify my fears, and I felt like I was a big burden. But I was just a kid.

Before I began to understand what I was going through, I had no idea what anxiety was. Everyone just thought I was a big cry baby. Everyone thought that I had anger problems. No one knew how to handle me, and all that did was make situations worse.

My anxiety kept growing more and more, and by the time I hit middle school, I felt like a prisoner in my own body.

I’m 22 now, and I’ve experienced nearly every type of anxiety disorder in the books. Let’s not even mention my struggles with depression and self-harm.

But I decided to get rid of all my shame, and I’m marking this year as the year for change. Self-improvement. Self-acceptance. Self-love.

In order to heal, I had to dissect every part of myself to fully understand who I was and who I came to be. And I discovered a lot about childhood anxiety.

Early Signs of Childhood Anxiety

GENERALIZED ANXIETY

Am I gonna get kidnapped walking to school? Will I find my way back from the bathroom? This is the right classroom, right?

Is my mom here to pick me up yet? Why is she late? Did she even remember to pick me up? Did I have to go to daycare instead? Did I miss the bus to get there? How am I going to get there if I don’t have one?

Am I going to be kidnapped walking from school? Will I even be able to get into my house? Why isn’t my mom unlocking the door when I ring the doorbell? Is she okay? Is she even still alive?

Even back then, life was just one big fight with anxiety.

Not much has changed as I got older. Yes, the situations changed, but the questions pretty much stayed the same.

SOCIAL ANXIETY

Luckily, my parents never threw me any birthday parties besides the ones I had with my family. I hated being the center of attention. I hated everyone staring at me as I opened up the presents. I hated people surrounding me as they sang happy birthday. Don’t even ask me to read the cards out loud.

I hardly hung out with my friends outside of school. My friends would call and invite me over, but I always made up excuses. I would beg for my family members to lie and say I wasn’t there. I would even pretend to ask my parents and say that they said no.

The times I did go to birthday sleepovers, I spent the whole time wishing I could go home. I was always the quiet one in the corner. I was always the last person to fall asleep and the first person to wake up. I was so lucky that my dad was always on time for everything.

I remember finding out during a couple instances that people didn’t like me because they thought I was rude. Quiet.

What they couldn’t understand was that I’m more comfortable around some people than I am around others. People with social anxiety are not rude. We carry a lot of shame because of this.

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OCD

I pretty much always wanted my hair in pigtails when I was younger. But they couldn’t be just any type of pigtails. They had to be the perfect pigtails.

They needed to be the right height. The right distance apart. And most importantly, they needed to be even.

Whenever I begged my mom do to them for me, it always ended in a panic attack because they weren’t exactly as I envisioned. I would stare in the mirror, trying to fix them without actually taking the ponytails out. My heart would race. I would often scream. Nothing could fix my pain until I would pull them out and redo them myself.

And if I didn’t kiss my dog goodnight every time before bed, I thought that she would pass away during the night. If I couldn’t hear my dad snoring in the next room, I figured he was already dead.

Even in childhood anxiety, so many obsessive thoughts kept me from getting a good night’s sleep.

THE MINDFULNESS WORKBOOK FOR OCD

When I was first diagnosed with OCD, The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD was the book I turned to. It covers several different types of OCD ranging from checking to relationship OCD (which is what I have). Its approach is cognitive behavioral therapy based, but it’s written in a very compassionate and warm way that makes you feel more at ease.

 

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PANIC ATTACKS

My mom thought it was the worst thing ever that I had “temper tantrums” until I was eight. But she failed to recognize that these “emotional outbursts” were actually panic attacks. I was just a kid with “anger” issues, and she didn’t know how to deal with me.

She would tell me, “if you’re going to act like a baby, you’re gonna be like a baby.” She physically went to the store, bought diapers, and put them in the closet for whenever I “needed” them. The worst part is that she would put them on me and hold me down until I would stop crying.

It makes me sick just thinking about it.

And even as I “outgrew” this, I looked back and felt that my feelings were real.

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Childhood anxiety is very real.

I see a lot of myself in my boyfriend’s 7-year-old sister. It terrifies me, but at the same time, I think I could be a big help in giving her guidance in her journey.

If you recognize a kid with symptoms of childhood anxiety, please, for the love of all the chocolate in the world, be there for them. The worst thing you can do is have a negative reaction to someone’s anxiety.

Try to be as soothing and comforting as you can be. Ask questions. Recognize their pain, and try to help them to safer ground.

Do what you would want somebody else to do for you.

Did you have any experience with anxiety growing up? How did you cope?


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