Bullying and Anxiety - What Is the Connection?

How bullying can lead to anxiety in kids

young anxious girl
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Bullying can be a traumatic experience for kids who are targeted. In fact, the pain, hurt and distress victims experience impacts almost every aspect of their lives. They often are left feeling lonely, isolated, vulnerable, depressed and anxious. What’s more, the consequences of bullying linger long after the victim has moved on.

There is no doubt that victims of bullying are subjected to stressful situations.

Whether they are threatened, cyberbullied, or experience name-calling, these types of bullying have a lasting impact. And after prolonged exposure victims of bullying can start to develop adverse reactions. Some victims of bullying will experience depression, eating disorders and even thoughts of suicide. But, they also can develop anxiety disorders.

The top four anxiety disorders that victims of bullying can experience include post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks and social anxiety disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD occurs after a traumatic or life-threatening event, like being in a severe car accident or losing a close relative. It also can show up after repeated abuse or bullying. Kids with PTSD might experience flashbacks, have nightmares, startle easily and withdraw from others. If the bullying your child experienced was particularly abusive and continued for a long time, there is an increased chance that he could develop PTSD.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Kids with generalized anxiety disorder are often plagued with worries and fears that distract them from their day-to-day activities like school and athletics. For instance, they might complain that they have this persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen.

To outsiders, people with GAD seem like chronic worriers but there are some physical symptoms as well. These include insomnia, stomachaches, restlessness, and fatigue. It is not uncommon for victims of bullying to worry or even expect that something bad is going to happen. After all, something bad does happen to them when they are being bullied. As a result, this repeated stress can filter over into other areas of their life and become a generalized anxiety disorder.

Panic attacks. People who suffer from a panic disorder must deal with unexpected and repeated panic attacks. During an attack, they experience feelings of terror that strike suddenly without warning. Other symptoms might include sweating, chest pain, and rapid or irregular heartbeats. Left untreated, panic attacks can lead sufferers to avoid going out. They worry that they will experience another episode. So they stay in, just in case they have another attack. 

Social anxiety disorder. When someone is afraid of being humiliated or being seen negatively by others, they may have a social anxiety disorder.

People with this disorder are plagued with self-consciousness about everyday social situations. Their fear is that others will judge them. They also worry that the way they look or act will cause others to ridicule them. In severe cases, people with social anxiety disorder avoid social gatherings altogether. It is not surprising that victims of bullying would develop a social anxiety disorder, especially if they were repeatedly shamed or publicly humiliated. They believe that the type of embarrassment they experience at school or at school functions will happen to them over and over again.

If your child is struggling with anxiety issues, there are some coping strategies that can be effective if your child’s worries, fears or anxiety attacks are not too severe. For instance, some people find that drawing, painting or writing down their worries helps. Not only does this practice help them release the stress and anxiety but it redirects their mind to use a creative outlet for a very real emotion. Other options include teaching your child relaxation techniques, encouraging him to exercise, and engaging in prayer or meditation.

But when your child’s worries, fears or anxiety issues are significant enough that they are disrupting his life in some way, it is important to seek professional help. Your child’s pediatrician can recommend a counselor who can determine the type of anxiety disorder that is present. A counselor also can help your child work through the bullying he experienced. Talking to someone about bullying is helpful for kids and a crucial step toward healing. 

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