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Article written by Cassandra Gist - Paediatric Psychologist

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is feelings of worry, nervousness, apprehension about an event with an uncertain outcome, or feelings of inadequacy.  Anxiety as a mental health disorder can include the following:

Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive anxiety of being separated from those whom the individual is attached

  • distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or attachment figures (a parent)

  • Excessive worry about losing a major attachment figure, or possible harm to them

  • Refusal or reluctance to go out of a place due to fear of separation

  • Fear of being alone without a major attachment figure

  • Reluctance or refusal to sleep away from home or not near the major attachment figure

  • Repeated nightmares involving separation

  • The avoidance must last at least 4 weeks in children and adolescents

Selective Mutism

  • Failure to speak in social situations, despite speaking in other situations

  • Must last for at least one month

Specific Phobia

  • Extreme anxiety or fear of particular objects or situations

  • In children the fear or anxiety may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, or clinging

  • Must last for up to six months and be persistent during this time

Social Anxiety Disorder

  • Severe anxiety about being criticised or negatively evaluated by others

  • Meeting unfamiliar people

  • Being observed

  • Performing in front of others

  • In children this may be expressed by crying, tantrums, freezing, clinging, shrinking, or failing to speak in social situations

  • In children, the anxiety must occur with children their own age and not just with adults

Panic Disorder

  • Repeated sudden surges of overwhelming fear and anxiety

  • May include chest pain, choking, shortness of breath, dizzy, or fear of dying


  • Being in open or closed places; crowds; outside of the home alone

  • The fear or anxiety must last for more than 6 months

Generalised Anxiety Disorder

  • Excessive worry about daily situations

  • Must be occurring most days for more than six months

What are the Symptoms of Anxiety?

The experience of anxiety will vary between individuals, but general includes:

  • concentration difficulties

  • restlessness

  • avoidance behaviours

  • increased heart rate

  • trembling or shaking

  • feeling lightheaded or faint

  • numbness or tingling sensations

  • upset stomach or nausea

  • sweating


How is it treated?

The psychologist will discuss with the client they’re history, including the possible use of questionnaires, to develop an understanding of the potential factors that might be contributing to the client’s anxiety. A treatment plan is then developed by the psychologist together with the person. For anxiety disorders, this can involve CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), mindfulness, exposure therapy, relaxation and other helpful strategies.  For children, this might involve play therapy, drawing techniques, the use of feeling cards, discussing values and setting goals for the child.  Along with the parent, the child will be guided through coping strategies in order to reduce the anxiety symptoms.