There is a continuum for anxiety levels: on one end there is healthy anxiety that helps the child succeed in daily tasks; and on the other end is an unhealthy anxiety that can become consuming. The threshold is determined in part on the effect it has on daily activities. A child with an anxiety disorder has greater difficulty focusing on tasks in class, as well as in daily life. Here are some features:
Worry is an underlying feature of anxiety disorders. Worry can be characterized by frequent unease and allowing one’s mind to dwell on problems. Excessive worry can overtake a person’s thought process, a phenomenon referred to as an “attentional bias”—you focus on something due to reoccurring thoughts. The worry can be so invasive that it takes a center stage in cognitive activities, replacing other more important information.
MEMORY – PROCESSING INFORMATION
Anxiety causes invasive thoughts that trigger worry. Constant worry makes it more effortful to process new information efficiently, resulting in the child expending more effort and time to complete a task. For instance, when writing an essay, a child with anxiety may take twice as long and require twice the concentration and effort as their peers, because they are constantly worrying about whether their ideas are good enough or their content is perfect.
Anxiety interferes with processing of verbal information in working memory. Verbal working memory is filled with worrisome thoughts so the child is unable to process new information. In contrast, studies have shown that visual-spatial working memory is not affected by generalized or performance anxiety, because worrisome thoughts are managed by verbal and not visual-spatial resources.
Children with anxiety do have a SUPERPOWER:
Being anxious can mean that you are extra aware of everything.
Children with anxiety often worry what other people think of them, so they are often more attentive to other people’s social cues and body language. A bonus of this extra social attention is that children with anxiety are usually very empathetic.