What IS Anxiety?

The nature of anxiety dates back to great philosophers of our time and early social scientists:

  • Sigmund Freud said anxiety was a “Connection point for life’s important questions”
  • David Barlow, a psychologist, saw anxiety as “A reflection of our important capabilities to adapt and plan for the future”
  • Kierkegaard, a widely regarded philosopher, went as far as to say that anxiety is “The very root of what it means to be human”

Our belief is that anxiety is a future-oriented emotion. At the heart of this emotion are feelings of apprehension, unpredictability, and uncontrollability over upcoming events and that might be threatening.

In the words of psychologist David Barlow, if anxiety were a sentence it would read:

“That terrible event could happen (again), and I might not be able to deal with it, but I’ve got to be ready to try.”

There are many different possible causes of anxiety

No single cause can explain the many different forms of anxiety in children. Some children are born with a tendency to become overexcited and withdraw from new situations (very salient between 6-months of age and 5 years of age). This has been studied as a temperamental trait named behavior inhibition.

Genetic Factors

Although there is some genetic contribution to the development of anxiety problems, there are many genes, each providing small contributions to the risk and with no clear association to any specific type of anxiety problem. In addition, specific neurobiological factors have been implicated in child anxiety development, escalation, and maintenance: brain stem, limbic system, HPA axis, and the frontal cortex.

Environmental Factors

Environmentally, parenting practices (intrusive, overinvolved parenting, limiting independence), family functioning (caregiver stress, parent-caregiver attachment relationship), and beliefs about the child’s anxiety (cause, sources, prognosis) can activate the biological risks for anxiety and strengthening the alarm brain circuits associated with child anxiety.

We need to learn to live with anxiety

Since anxiety is an emotion that every human needs to live with, we believe the best way to prevent the consequences of child anxiety (explained in About Child Anxiety) is through management techniques. Many times, people try to “treat” symptoms of anxiety through erasing the emotion – we don’t think this is possible.

Here-in lies the roots of our name – COMPASS for Courage. We have found through research that giving children a mental framework that empowers them to exercise courage is one of the best ways to prevent symptoms of untreated anxiety. Since anxiety is a future-oriented emotion, giving kids the tools to deal with the unknowns in their future is the sure way to allow anxiety to function as it is supposed to, as a warning mechanism and not as a state of being.

Do you want to address youth anxiety more effectively?

Evidence-based intervention to teach youth anxiety-management skills in schools, private practice, or community clinics

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