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6 Things I Did as a Kid I Didn't Realize Were Because of Anxiety

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In case you weren’t aware, kids can experience anxiety! How do I know this? Because I was one of them! I can’t speak for all kids with anxiety, but I can tell you, this is what anxiety looked like for me as a kid.

I was diagnosed with anxiety at 22 years old, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t suffer from it before then. In fact, after I was diagnosed, my childhood started to make a lot more sense. I’ve heard a lot of people say this too.

For many, anxiety doesn’t just appear during adulthood — it was most likely always there, just without a name! Kids may have anxiety and not even know it’s not “normal” to feel that way. Parents may not even be aware that some things their children do can actually be signs of anxiety, which is why I have listed what anxiety looked like for me as a kid.

1. I got frequent stomachaches.

Every day in elementary school, my stomach would feel like a knot in the morning. It’s not that I didn’t like school, it’s just that it made me feel nervous every single morning. It didn’t matter if I had a big test or if it was field trip day, the anxiety was always there. I had to wake up a little earlier each morning to take my nervous stomachaches into consideration. Each person is different, which means each kid is different. If you notice your kid having frequent stomachaches before certain events, they may be feeling anxious about it. They may have a reason for the anxiety they can define or they may not. Either way, these frequent stomachaches may be much more than just an upset stomach.

2. I didn’t participate a lot in class, but I had good grades.

There are probably a few factors that played into this for me, such as me being reading levels behind for my age in elementary school. However, now looking back on it, there was anxiety there too. I was afraid I would say the wrong thing or forget what to say. Most of the time I knew the correct answer, but I seemed to freeze and wouldn’t raise my hand. After my teachers noticed I didn’t participate a lot, they started to randomly call on me. Most of the time I would get the answer right, but even after those moments, I still had those negative thoughts about how I responded — if it was good enough, if people heard me stutter that one word, etc. My lack in participation didn’t mean I didn’t know what was going on. My anxiety just sometimes froze my thoughts which didn’t allow me to participate. My anxiety also made me worry about the times when I did participate which made me less motivated to participate in the future.

3. I disliked being at home alone. 

For some kids, being home alone was the best thing because they could do whatever they wanted. However, when I was home alone, it was the complete opposite. Every sound the house made I convinced myself it was someone trying to break in. I would either lock myself in a room and hope the “burglar” wouldn’t find me or I would run outside my house and climb a tree. Now as an adult, I can stay home alone without these anxious thoughts, except for overnight. If my husband is out of town, I stay at my mom’s house even if that means it doubles my commute time to work! Although this anxiety has gotten better over time, it’s still there!

4. I disliked making eye contact with others.

This was more of a problem in my toddler years. I remember always being asked to look up at the person who was talking to me. This terrified me. I’m not sure why because I sometimes couldn’t even make eye contact with family members I knew very well. I obviously don’t remember the thoughts I was having at the time, but I’m almost positive this was my anxiety showing. This was an unusual fear that affected my life and how I interacted with people. This is kind of an example of social anxiety that I had at just 3 years old!

5. I had the same nightmare over and over again.

I went through this phase when I had the same nightmare almost every night. Even thinking about that nightmare now freaks me out! The nightmare was about me in my house with all the blinds opened and a bald man walking around each window and just staring at me. He would eventually then break into my house — which is usually when I went crying to my parents’ room and told them there were robbers trying to get me. This nightmare is a reflection of certain anxieties I had, such as people looking at me and also someone breaking in my house. I know everyone has nightmares, but recurrent nightmares may actually be a sign of anxiety, which is why I believe this was a sign of my anxiety.

6. I made physical symptoms into something bigger.

Or in other words… I was a hypochondriac. I actually don’t like how this word is used in society today because it’s always used in a negative way. People often use it to belittle someone to say they are an “attention-seeker.” However, that is not the case for others! This is an actual mental illness people live with. Their anxiety convinces them they have this awful disease if they feel a little sick. Their anxiety makes small things into big things fast. That’s the case with any other type of anxiety. This is in the category of health anxiety. Please don’t see these actions as your kid just looking for attention because they may have anxiety!

It’s important to remember childhood anxieties don’t necessarily end when a child becomes an adult. It was funny writing this post because I still sometimes have these anxieties today. I bet when my mom and husband read this they would agree! Most people are usually diagnosed with anxiety as an adult not because they start to have anxiety when they turn 18, but because they become more aware of what anxiety is or they have a mental breakdown… I’m guilty of this!

Hopefully fewer adults will have mental breakdowns in the future because their anxiety will be diagnosed at a younger age. I’m hopeful of this because I’ve noticed an increase in awareness for mental illnesses. This awareness needs to be for all ages!

Adults may look at these signs in their child as their kid “just being a kid” and being scared of things. However, it may be much more than them just being a kid!

Getty Images photo via Juliia Tochilin

Originally published: April 19, 2018
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