What is anxiety? What is fear? What are emotions? Those are just three of the many questions asked at a seminar I attended on October 6th entitled “Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Recognizing and Treating the Emerging Epidemic” presented by Dr. Carryl P Navalta, Ph.D., a Clinical Research Supervisor at Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s Trauma Center in Boston. You might be surprised to find out the answers to these questions, along with another question asked – “Are anxiety and fear one and the same? Dr. Navalta gave a resounding “no” to this question.
Anxiety is “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome” while fear is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause, pain, or a threat.” According to Dr. Navalta, anxiety occurs when someone is approaching a perceived threat while fear occurs when someone is avoiding a perceived threat. To illustrate, take the following scenario: a child and a large ferocious dog. The child’s parent would experience anxiety when approaching the situation in order to protect the child whereas the child would experience fear of the dog and simply avoid the animal. For both, the emotional valence is negative. However, for anxiety, the temporal focus is future focused and for fear, the temporal focus is present focus. Additionally, for anxiety, the duration of arousal is sustained, and for fear, the duration of arousal is brief.
I attended this conference because as a Speech-Language Pathologist, it is important for me to recognize when my students are suffering from anxiety. It can cause them to “shut down” during therapy or act out. It is my job to encourage them to talk about their feelings, not only their feelings of anxiety, but any feelings and emotions they might experience. In addition, it is important for me to give them tools that are necessary to express those emotions to others around them in an appropriate manner. Sometimes, a student might act out, not because of poor behavior, but because he/she cannot express their frustrations, anxieties or anger.
When trying to decide whether someone is experiencing anxiety or fear, good questions to ask include, “How often are you worried that something bad will happen?” (anxiety) and “How likely are you to avoid ______ because of fear?” Keeping in mind that all people experience emotions (defined as “a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationship with others”), including anxiety, it is important to distinguish when it is part of typical development or when it is a psychiatric symptom.
For more information on the seminar, contact Odette Hankins, SLP at A+ Solutions. For more information on anxiety, please contact one of our psychologists at A+ Solutions. The number is 216-896-0111.