How to Identify & Treat Anxiety Symptoms in Children Without Medication

Anxiety is a feeling that we are all familiar with, and for many of us, it is something that can be overcome with supportive measures.

That said, there are times when our anxiety response becomes more severe, and the intense feelings of dread and panic that accompany anxiety become so persistent and long-lasting that they begin to interfere with social and occupational functioning.

In these cases, the run-of-the-mill anxiety becomes an anxiety disorder, which for many individuals, and especially children, can become debilitating and life-altering.

Indeed, anxiety symptoms in children can lead to various developmental problems that have long-term effects, which is why parents need to act fast if they recognize any of the signs and symptoms associated with anxiety affecting their child.

For over 40 years, the Drake Institute has pioneered the use of biofeedback and neurofeedback treatment in clinical medicine and specializes in the application of these therapies in improving the quality of life for patients with a variety of anxiety and anxiety-related disorders.

In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about anxiety, including why it occurs, when it becomes a disorder, and how we can help your child overcome their anxiety-related symptoms without the use of prescription medications.

For immediate assistance, please don’t hesitate to fill out our contact form or to call us at 800-700-4233 for a preliminary consultation at no charge.


What is Anxiety?  

Anxiety is our mind and body’s natural response to stressful situations, events, and encounters.

If you’ve ever lost sleep over a presentation or felt your heart rate go up right before an interview, then you already know what anxiety feels like—it’s a crushing feeling that can cause several negative side effects, including insomnia, heart palpitations, trembling, and excessive worrying.

In the most severe cases, anxiety can even cause panic attacks, which are one of the most frightening and debilitating emotional experiences an individual can go through.

That said, anxiety and our fear reaction do play a critical role in keeping us safe and aware of threats in our environment.

Additionally, while no one enjoys the feeling of being anxious, in more mild forms, it can help us to perform at our best—so long as we’re able to return to a state of emotional normalcy once the anxiety-inducing encounter has ended.

What Causes Anxiety in Children?

Anxiety in kids can have several different causes, including:

  • Bullying at school
  • Exams
  • Keeping up with homework
  • Frequently moving or changing schools
  • Loss of a friend or family member
  • Parental conflicts
  • Social pressures
  • Being separated from parents

It’s important to note that anxiety can also be caused by genetic factors. For some children, their brain is dysregulated from birth, making them predisposed to having a lower threshold for developing an anxiety disorder.  

What Is An Anxiety Disorder?

To understand what an anxiety disorder is, we must first look at the mechanisms that control our fear response.

Every human being is born with a “fight or flight” response that is controlled by the brain’s limbic system.

This system is composed of structures such as the amygdala, and once our “fight or flight” response kicks into gear, we start to experience intense feelings of fear, nervousness, and threat.

This survival response is normal and part of our evolutionary history, and without it, we would be more susceptible to falling victim to predators, environmental hazards, and other kinds of external threats.

The feeling of dread that accompanies the “fight or flight” response should dissipate over time, but if the symptoms of anxiety are persistent and excessive, then the individual may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

The most common type of anxiety disorder the Drake Institute treats is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is described by the DSM-V as “excessive anxiety and worry (apprehensive expectation), occurring more days than not for at least 6 months, about a number of events or activities (such as work or school performance).” [i]

If left untreated, an anxiety disorder can cause significant discomfort and impairment in one’s day-to-day life, and in the case of children, it can disrupt their ability to concentrate on schoolwork, make friends, and feel comfortable being away from their parents.

Parents should monitor their children for the signs and symptoms of anxiety, as catching it early can go a long way in preventing long-term issues.

Anxiety Symptoms in Kids

The signs of anxiety in children can include several serious physical and psychological effects, including:

Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Digestive dysfunction
  • Easily fatigued
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle tensions in neck and shoulder
  • Somatic symptoms (sweating, nausea, diarrhea)
  • Frequent urination
  • Bruxism (teeth grinding or clenching)
  • Headaches
  • Cold or sweaty hands
  • Palpitations (heart pounding)
  • Trembling

Psychological Effects of Anxiety

  • Clinging Behavior
  • Fear of separation from parents
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Temper tantrums
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Nightmares
  • Irritability
  • Feeling on edge
  • Racing thoughts

As mentioned, if your child is experiencing any of the above symptoms for an extended period of time, you should seek professional help as soon as possible.

Common Types of Anxiety Disorders in Children

Children can suffer from several different anxiety disorders, including separation anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder, specific phobia, and more.

Below, we’ll provide details regarding each of these disorders.

Separation Anxiety

Children with a separation anxiety disorder (SAD) can experience intense feelings of fear whenever they’re away from home or their parents.

This feeling can become so intense that children experiencing SAD can have difficulties interacting with their peers at school, they may struggle to pay attention in the classroom, they can resist going on playdates without parental supervision or have difficulties sleeping by themselves.

And while all children experience some form of separation anxiety, children suffering from SAD can experience negative symptoms for weeks or even months at a time.

According to the DSM-V, a diagnosis of SAD requires that the fear, anxiety, and avoidance must persist for at least 4 weeks. [ii]

Panic Disorder

Panic attacks are one of the most traumatic experiences an individual can go through, and they have several physical and psychological effects, including:

  • Heart palpitations
  • Choking sensations
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hot/cold flashes
  • Trembling
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness in the limbs
  • Fear of dying

Unfortunately, children diagnosed with a panic disorder will tend to have reoccurring panic attacks and they often become intensely fearful of subsequent attacks.

Worse yet, many children diagnosed with a panic disorder can experience panic attacks without an obvious trigger. As a result, the threat of having another panic attack can become a source of intense fear and anxiety for children suffering from a panic disorder, causing them to become withdrawn and avoid activities, places, and things that they fear might trigger another attack. These panic attacks can become devastating to a child’s self-esteem.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety disorder is characterized by an intense fear of being rejected, humiliated, or embarrassed in front of others.

At a certain point in their development, children will start to become more aware of what others might think of them. To ingratiate themselves with their peers, they will then begin to alter their behavior in accordance with what they believe is socially acceptable.

However, in certain cases, this feeling of wanting to be accepted goes too far and turns into a social phobia. In the most severe cases, even the smallest social interactions with a peer can bring about intense feelings of fear and dread.

Specific Phobia

Specific phobia is characterized by an intense and irrational fear of an object, item, or situation that poses no real danger.

Specific phobias are one of the most common phobias; they can be long-lasting, cause severe physical and psychological symptoms, and affect a child’s ability to function at school or home.

Common specific phobias include:

  • Enclosed spaces like elevators or airplanes
  • Heights
  • Insects
  • Dogs
  • Needles
  • Thunder and lightning
  • Fear of a parent or sibling getting sick or hurt

Like other anxiety-related disorders, the cause of a specific phobia is not known; however, many believe that having a traumatic experience at a young age can cause a person to develop a specific phobia.

For example, if a child is attacked by a dog, there is a chance that he or she may develop a specific phobia about dogs and other animals.

Selective Mutism

Children with selective mutism speak freely and confidently in certain social situations where they feel comfortable, secure, and at ease; however, once the social situation changes and the comfort is removed, these same children will often refuse to speak, avoid eye contact, and feel overwhelmed with anxiety.

That said, not all children with selective mutism behave in the same manner: some children will become mute when faced with an uncomfortable social situation, while others will whisper to specific individuals within the group or have trusted friends speak for them.

The cause of selective mutism isn’t entirely known, but it’s speculated that children afflicted with this disorder have a genetic predisposition to anxiety.

How to Help a Child With Anxiety

Anxiety relief for kids traditionally encompasses two treatment strategies: anti-anxiety medications, and/or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

However, even though medications can have a positive impact on a child’s wellbeing, they also carry the potential of a significant number of unwanted side effects.

Anti-Anxiety Medications

There are several anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications used to treat anxiety disorders in children, and these can help with temporarily reducing anxiety symptoms.

However, these medications also carry the chance of introducing several significant side effects, some of which are listed below:

  • Nausea
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Insomnia
  • Lightheadedness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Some antidepressants can actually increase anxiety-related symptoms in certain patients, which is why doctors start patients off on a low dosage before gradually increasing the prescribed amount.

Furthermore, some individuals can develop a tolerance for anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, which can necessitate the need for larger dosages, further increasing the chance of developing unwanted side effects.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective and safe treatment for both children and adults suffering from a variety of anxiety disorders.

How does it work?

In short, CBT teaches kids important skills that can help them manage and cope with their anxiety-related symptoms.

In the case of panic attacks, CBT can help kids recognize an oncoming panic attack and help to alleviate the severity and duration of these episodes through the use of different cognitive strategies.

Indeed, the goal of CBT is to teach kids to think logically about what’s happening to them and to challenge maladaptive thoughts that are not based on reality.

CBT can also include a technique called “exposure therapy”, and just like the name implies, this kind of therapy exposes children to activities, objects, and places that are a source of anxiety and stress.

This exposure is done carefully and in a controlled manner as to not overwhelm the child, allowing the child to become desensitized to those things so they can learn to face previously overwhelming fears with confidence.

Treating Anxiety at The Drake Institute

At the Drake Institute, we believe that the best strategy for helping children with anxiety manage, cope, and overcome their anxiety-related symptoms is to mobilize their brain’s natural ability to self-regulate.

Similar to CBT, our non-drug, non-invasive treatment protocols teach kids important skills that can help them achieve symptom reduction.

Our treatment protocols use advanced technologies like qEEG brain mapping, biofeedback, and brain-map guided neurofeedback to identify the areas of the brain that are under or over-activated so that we can create a custom treatment protocol for each patient.

This approach tends to be far more effective than a “one-size-fits-all” process since it allows us to tailor our treatment strategy to the patient’s specific needs.

Best yet, because our treatment protocols don’t rely on prescription medications, symptom relief can be experienced well after treatment has ended.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of the Drake Institute’s treatment technologies for anxiety disorders:


Biofeedback is a non-invasive treatment protocol designed to help patients overcome their anxiety-related symptoms.

To accomplish this task, biofeedback leverages the mind-body connection to help patients reach a deep state of relaxation, training them to take some control over their body’s involuntary reactions to stress.

Brain-map Guided Neurofeedback

Brain-map guided neurofeedback, including LORETA neurofeedback, helps our patients achieve reduction or resolution of anxiety symptoms via self-regulation, allowing them to regain homeostasis.

We also use Neurofeedback to teach patients how to shift their autonomic nervous system out of the “fight or flight state” and back into the healing or recovery state, which further helps alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Best of all, our neurofeedback-driven treatment process tends to produce long-term improvement since it develops the patient’s self-regulation skills, which they can then use to assist them in preventing anxiety and stress from overwhelming and dominating them in the future.

Contact The Drake Institute Today!

If you or your child is suffering from the effects of an anxiety disorder, please call us today to schedule a no-cost screening consultation.




Contact Us Today

To get the help you or a loved one needs, call now to schedule your no-cost screening consultation.

dr david velkoff headshot

“David F. Velkoff, M.D., our Medical Director and co-founder, supervises all evaluation procedures and treatment programs. He is recognized as a physician pioneer in using biofeedback, qEEG brain mapping, neurofeedback, and neuromodulation in the treatment of ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and stress related illnesses including anxiety, depression, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Dr. David Velkoff earned his Master’s degree in Psychology from the California State University at Los Angeles in 1975, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta in 1976. This was followed by Dr. Velkoff completing his internship in Obstetrics and Gynecology with an elective in Neurology at the University of California Medical Center in Irvine. He then shifted his specialty to Neurophysical Medicine and received his initial training in biofeedback/neurofeedback in Neurophysical Medicine from the leading doctors in the world in biofeedback at the renown Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. In 1980, he co-founded the Drake Institute of Neurophysical Medicine. Seeking to better understand the link between illness and the mind, Dr. Velkoff served as the clinical director of an international research study on psychoneuroimmunology with the UCLA School of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Pasteur Institute in Paris. This was a follow-up study to an earlier clinical collaborative effort with UCLA School of Medicine demonstrating how the Drake Institute's stress treatment resulted in improved immune functioning of natural killer cell activity. Dr. Velkoff served as one of the founding associate editors of the scientific publication, Journal of Neurotherapy. He has been an invited guest lecturer at Los Angeles Children's Hospital, UCLA, Cedars Sinai Medical Center-Thalians Mental Health Center, St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, and CHADD. He has been a medical consultant in Neurophysical Medicine to CNN, National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, Univision, and PBS.”

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