7 Signs of Childhood Anxiety

We’re sharing stories and experiences of people who have been there and know what it’s like to experience the highs and lows of mental illness.

Just last year, mega-star and Twitter troll extraordinaire, Ryan Reynolds opened up about his lifelong battle with anxiety.

“I have anxiety. I’ve always had anxiety,” Reynolds told New York Times Journalist, Cara Buckley.

The Deadpool actor revealed that it was his childhood and the methods of his former police officer father that shaped the ways anxiety controlled much of his life.

“When you stress out kids, there’s a weird paradox that happens because they’re suddenly taking on things that aren’t theirs to take on,” Reynolds explains, saying he used to obsess over keeping the house clean as not to cause conflict with his father.

I was on the phone with my own dad the other day when we got to talking about some of the anxieties he’s dealt with his entire life.

And it got me thinking. Now that I’m an adult, and I know what anxiety is and how it manifests in my life, I’m able to see how it was fostered in me as a child, just as Reynolds touched on in his NYT profile.

As an adult, I constantly find myself battling this irrational, but very real fear that my husband is going to die. Not like we’re going to grow old and die one day — I get that that happens. I’m talking like, right now. At 26 years old, he’s going to leave the house and not come back. This fear was put on blast a month ago when a close friend of ours tragically lost her husband after he went out for an evening jog and was hit by a drunk driver.

In talking about it with my dad, I explained it as a “new anxiety” — something I’ve just only experienced in the last two years since getting married.

But the more we talked, the more I realized, I’ve been harboring this separation anxiety my entire life.

I remember as a kid, I refused to let my parents leave the house or hang up the phone before I said “I love you.” I would have straight screaming matches with my dad as a teenager and ten minutes later when he would leave the house to go do something, I would run to him and make sure I hugged him and told him I loved him.

I have always had this very heavy fear that when someone walks out that door, they aren’t going to come back. And it’s visible to me now more than ever, that my anxieties as an adult aren’t “new” or unfamiliar. It’s just that they’re now diagnosed and recognized.

7 Signs of Childhood Anxiety:

1. Stomach aches

In elementary school, I sang in the church choir. I had practice every Monday afternoon for two hours with 200+ other kids (I grew up in a really big church). EVERY single Monday, I would make myself sick waiting for my mom to pick me up from choir. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I thought she was going to forget me, or if I thought she had died in the two hours she waited in the parking lot. But whatever the case, I had stomach aches often as a kid. As an adult I don’t so much get stomach aches, but rather, sudden urges to use the restroom.

2. Angry Streaks & Outbursts

I remember my sister always being dubbed “the difficult child” out of the three of us girls. My family went on a weekend getaway one time and my mom let us all have soda as a special treat. “E” didn’t take to the sugar so well, and instead of being a wound up 6-year-old that was out of control, she was a raging little girl who did nothing but scream and argue with my parents for hours.

Looking back now, I really don’t think it had anything to do with the sugar. She was kept away from sugar after that for a lot of her childhood, but the outbursts still came.  My sister has severe ADD, just like myself. And even today as a twenty-something, she frequently has unexplained “outbursts.” Over the years, we’ve come to recognize that it’s simply the result of anxiety that is rooted in being misunderstood. Her ADD makes it difficult to articulate specifically what she’s trying to communicate, and as a result, she sometimes “erupts.”

3. Being Quiet or Shy

Introverts, unite! Many people who suffer from anxiety, also happen to be introverts. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always the case. But for most introverts, things like small talk, being the center of attention, holding a conversation, and just your average people interactions have a tendency to stir up anxiety. Chances are, if you were quiet or shy as a kid, and didn’t totally “grow out of it,” it’s likely that you can see where your shyness as a child may have been rooted in some sort of anxiety — social or other.

4. Separation Anxiety

Similar to my own anxieties I described above, my husband grew up living in crippling fear of his parents dying. His separation anxiety would get so bad that he’d often stay home from school because he was “too sick.” Looking back now, he probably was sick to some extent being that the overwhelming fear of leaving his family — even for something as simple and normal as school — was too much for this sweet little boy to handle.

5. Avoiding Social Interactions

As an adult, we often get invited out for dinner, or a group of friends gathers at someone’s house. You can always turn down an invitation for social activities, but social anxiety as a kid isn’t always so easy to escape. Eating with others in the cafeteria is a minefield of navigating where to sit and who to sit with. What’s worse is when you would sit alone and worry about someone joining you. The anxiety is a mental drain of massive proportions, and far too much for a child to take on and realizing exactly what they’re experiencing.

6. Nervous Habits

Anything from nail biting to hair pulling, to constantly tapping the pencil on your desk would be considered a nervous habit. And they’re all things that people who suffer from anxiety can relate to doing as a child. Most individuals who resort to these habits will often tell you that it’s nearly impossible to stop. Not because pulling hairs out of your head feels good, but because it’s a coping mechanism that’s directly related to anxiety.

7. Canceling plans

Similar to avoiding social interactions, canceling plans is probably one of the most common ways people with anxiety cope. It doesn’t matter if it’s something you’ve been looking forward to forever or not, anxiety makes it so that the “safe” thing to do is retreat and stay home. Many people who suffer from anxiety often see this in their childhood. Whether it be backing out of a slumber party you’ve been looking forward to for weeks, or just a last minute play-date with your best friend, it’s always been your M.O. to isolate yourself at the last minute.

If you’ve lived with anxiety for any amount of time, you know that it affects every individual differently. Some people never experienced anything on this list as a kid, and still, today are the victims of crippling anxiety. Others will read through this list of things people did as a kid because of their anxiety and be raising their hand in agreement saying, “that’s me.”

Wherever you are at in the process, know this: you are not alone. Your childhood ways do not define you in a negative manner but support you in your efforts to combat the beast. Because knowledge is power. Being self-aware and knowing intricate details about how you’re wired and why you do the things you do, is empowering.

Bri Lamm
Bri Lamm
Bri Lamm is the Editor of foreverymom.com. An outgoing introvert with a heart that beats for adventure, she lives to serve the Lord, experience the world, and eat macaroni and cheese all while capturing life’s greatest moments on one of her favorite cameras. Follow her on Facebook.

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