Panic Stricken Youth
Emma Stone may seem poised beyond her 22 years, but the actress wasn't always so self-assured and socially graceful. As she recently told Glamour magazine, she suffered from panic attacks as a child.
Emma confessed, "I had massive anxiety as a child. I was in therapy. From 8 to 10, I was borderline agoraphobic. I could not leave my mom's side. I don't really have panic attacks anymore, but I had really bad anxiety."
Our expert, Los Angeles psychiatrist Dr. Melanie Zermeno, weighs in on Emma's experience: "Some anxiety is common in children and teenagers. As children encounter new situations, they can feel a bit hesitant and unsure of what the new situation, such as a new school or teacher, can bring. Nervousness and initial reluctance to engage in something new often manifests in some clinging to parents, requests to not participate, and some tears. Generally, these reactions are short lived. Most children, when put in the new situation, quickly find that it is nonthreatening and their nervousness resolves.
However, for some children and teens with anxiety disorders, the nervousness is much more severe and does not resolve so quickly. Children with anxiety disorders often experience an intense sense of dread and doom with new situations or people. They are easily overcome with fear, crying and clinging to their parents to avoid being isolated in a new situation. For many children with anxiety disorders, the presence of the parent is soothing enough that they are able to encounter new people and places as long as the parent remains close by. When the parent attempts to leave, these children feel intensely fearful and vulnerable again."
Less common, however, is the agoraphobia Emma described. Dr. Zermeno explains, "Agoraphobia is the fear of places or situations in which escape may be difficult or embarrassing, or in which help may be difficult to get if needed. Often agoraphobia occurs in concert with panic disorder. Individuals fear certain places in which they would be embarrassed or unable to flee or obtain help if they had a panic attack. Due to the intense dread of such situations, individuals avoid them, making functioning such as going to school or work difficult. Commonly feared situations include elevators, airplanes, crowds, sitting in class, or waiting in lines.
Usually children are able to desensitize to new situations with repeated exposure, initially with the parent close by, then gradually a bit further and further away. With practice, most children should be able to learn that they are just as 'safe' when the parent is a foot away versus several yards away. For some children with more severe anxiety disorders, this type of practice may need to be done under the guidance of a therapist with experience in treating anxiety disorders. In addition to therapy, parents should try to talk with their child about their fears and validate their feelings. Dismissing someone's fear as irrational or silly will only make them feel more isolated and fearful. Ensuring that the home and family relationships are safe and nonthreatening will also assist the child in seeing the world as a whole in this same way."
Now we think a basic level of anxiety around some situations, like your phone "not being able to receive texts" or the last good cupcake being snatched, is totally normal... even necessary for survival. But all joking aside, make sure there's someone you can talk to if your anxiety is persistent and holding you back.