Children more likely to suffer anxiety if they avoid scary situations

Learning that fear is manageable is an important part of growing up, says study

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Children who avoid scary situations are more likely to suffer from anxiety, according to a new study carried out by the Mayo Clinic.

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More than 800 children aged 7 to 18 were asked a series of questions to determine how they’d react in stressful or scary situations. The results show that children whose responses revealed they’d purposefully avoid doing things they found scary, tended to be more anxious a year later.

Of those children, 25 were given cognitive behaviour therapy and after being exposed to fearful situations, half went on to demonstrate an improvement. Lead author Dr Whiteside says, “This likely indicates that part of the reason they’re getting better is that they’re no longer avoiding things.

“Kids who avoid fearful situations don’t have the opportunity to face their fears and don’t learn that their fears are manageable,” Dr Whiteside adds.

A further study, published in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, reveals that exercise can help children cope with stressful situations.

In a study of 252 children, those with higher levels of fitness were shown to have lower levels of cortisol – a hormone linked to stress – than those who were less active.

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“The findings suggest physical activity plays a role in mental health by buffering children from the effects of daily stressors, such as public speaking,” says study lead Silja Martikainen.

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