Anxiety Disorders in Children, Adolescents, and Emerging Adulthood


The anxiety disorders begin in childhood, and, when left untreated, can persist into chronic conditions that last into adolescence and adulthood. Individuals who suffer from anxiety have distress from the anxiety itself, but additionally accumulate disability from avoidance: they avoid both the successes and failures of routine living.

In response to a child’s distress, parents of children with anxiety disorders tend to capitulate to the unrealistic worry of the child or actively facilitate avoidance. Both strategies, which are intuitively understandable, inadvertently serve to further the anxiety driven impairment.

Youth with anxiety disorders going through the transition from childhood to adulthood differ substantially from anxious younger children as well as from anxious adults. When anxiety and avoidance that presents in childhood goes unaddressed, individuals do not develop an adequate array of coping and adaption skills. As the academic, employment, and social functioning pressures increase in early and young adulthood, anxious emerging adults find themselves struggling to function independently and may become overwhelmed and unable to cope, and then leave or fail out of educational and vocational settings.

Despite the high prevalence rates and the impairment that anxiety disorders cause, only one-third of individuals suffering from anxiety disorders receive treatment, and among those who do receive therapy, many do not receive cognitive-behavioral therapy or antidepressant medication, which are the treatments with the greatest evidence base.

Treatment for anxiety among emerging adults includes the individual, the involved family members, and sometimes the educational institution or the work place. The aim of treatment is to reduce anxiety symptoms by gradually exposing the youth to their anxiety triggers, to increase tolerance to uncomfortable situations, and to learn coping and adaption skills. Individuals work in groups and individual therapy to set goals, improve communication skills, and practice facing and engaging in age-appropriate independent tasks. The families focus on encouraging independence and disengaging from unhelpful compensatory behaviors.