Quick Facts

Myths About Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Since anxiety is "in your head," anxiety disorders are not true illnesses.

In fact, an anxiety disorder is an extreme form of uncontrollable anxiety that causes serious misery and impairment. Generalized anxiety disorder is debilitating anxiety about ordinary things, usually involving fear of failure. If it's not treated, it can dramatically limit a child's activities and interfere with her healthy development.

People with generalized anxiety are weak and should just pull themselves together.

Anxiety isn't diagnosed as a disorder unless it's much more overwhelming and impairing than the garden-variety anxiousness people typically feel. Children who have GAD may be as tough as the next child, but they are terrorized by thoughts and feelings other children aren't experiencing, and they need treatment to learn to defuse these irrational fears.

Avoiding anxiety-producing situations is a good way to manage GAD.

Wrong: Staying away from the things and situations that prompt fears only strengthens a child's anxiety. Better to try to give the child the support she needs to deal with the situation and tolerate her anxiety. In terms of treatment, the best therapy involves gradual exposure to the stressors in a controlled setting, so a child can learn to neutralize that anxiety.

Kids who are anxious should be forced to do the things they're afraid of.

Forcing very anxious kids can backfire. Instead, children with anxiety should be supported and encouraged to tolerate their fears. Behavioral therapy can help them recognize when fears are irrational, and learn to defuse them. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may be helpful if  behavioral therapy doesn't achieve the desired result.

For a complete guide to GAD, see our Mental Health Guide. For more articles and videos on Anxiety, see our Hot Topics.

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