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Anxious? Shy? Dramatic?

Ah that one question that should be fairly easy to ask as a clinician with 10 years of experience. Right? Wrong! At least for me, or maybe it’s my anxiety talking. I think I have trouble phrasing it or maybe I have some of my own anxious thoughts that start to intrude. Generally, most people answer that it’s hard to recall or it’s hard to remember it NOT being there whether they were aware or not. I believe my anxiety started as a young child, and I didn’t know what it was. My parents definitely are from that generational stereotype of not talking about feelings, so they had no clue. Read on if you wonder when your anxiety started, and different ways anxiety can look especially as a child.

Anxiety often manifests in various ways and can affect everyone differently. The most common symptoms of anxiety include: overall fear , excessive worry, racing heartbeat, irritability, and racing thoughts (just to name a few). For many people who experience anxiety, they might go years before being clinically diagnosed and starting treatment. One large reason is because children and teenagers who are anxious are often dismissed as being “dramatic,” “overly sensitive” and “emotional,” or “just plain lazy” — which is not the case. I know way more about anxiety than I did as a child or even teenager. These are some examples that I’ve had a chance to reflect back on that was my anxiety as a child.

1. I was absolutely mortified whenever I had to interact with people I didn’t OR DID know.

My parents always thought that I was just a shy, awkward kid that had trouble making friends. What they failed to realize was that this “shyness” was always at 20 on a scale of 1 to 10.  It really didn’t matter if it was a complete stranger or someone I knew.

2. I was always self-conscious about my appearance, or coming across as foolish.

Even as a young child, my brain was always riddled with thoughts of how others perceived me, which would undoubtedly stress me out and ramp up my anxiety.

3. I would always plan out a conversation before it actually happened. I still have trouble with this to this day. This goes back to my brain always being on the defense of having to appear a certain way — having to appear “normal.”

4. I chose to stay indoors and play alone, or with my many imaginary friends. Again, a lot of the time, having to be around others and interact was draining for me. It was much easier and less stressful to play quietly by myself and use my imagination.

5. I always procrastinated with things I needed to get done. Yet another problem I still have issues with as an adult — chores, homework, calling a friend back, you name it.

6. I was always viewed as a “drama queen.”

This one used to really upset me! My entire life I was perceived as a “drama queen” by family and friends, but unbeknownst to them, I wasn’t being dramatic. I was just anxious and didn’t know how to express it.

Anxiety, for me, is like a little monster that resides in your brain, constantly waiting to remind you of how much of a failure you are. So as a defense you think of all the possible scenarios that could happen and you immediately try to do damage control.

Early recognition of anxiety disorders is necessary in order to seek and obtain proper care. Talk to your kids about their feelings and emotions, and really try to place yourself in their situation. Don’t simply dismiss their stress as childhood angst. Growing up and navigating through life is tough! Be there and be supportive!

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