Everyday Stress

Is it Everyday Stress or Problematic Anxiety?

Anxiety is a normative, adaptive response that helps one to prepare for action in the face of potential harm. Most children experience some level of anxiety in response to everyday stress. The experience of everyday stress may not equate with having an anxiety disorder. Differentiating between everyday stress and an anxiety disorder depends on the intensity and duration of the anxiety, how much control the child has over the anxiety, and how interfering the anxiety is the child’s functioning across life domains. If the child experiences low levels of anxiety, is able to quickly move on from the anxiety, and continues to function in all life domains, they likely do not have an anxiety disorder. For example, a child may feel nervous about an upcoming school test. This motivates the child to study for the test. Although he feels some anxiety during the test, he is able to concentrate and complete the test. After the test is over, he does not perseverate on how well he did and is able to enjoy his usual activities. In contrast, a child with an anxiety disorder may experience high levels of anxiety prior to the test. He may attempt to avoid the test altogether due to fear of failure. During the test, he likely has difficulty concentrating and completing the test due to his worries and fears. After the test, the child remains upset and unable to move onto other activities due to perseverating over his test performance.

Youth who experience everyday stress may benefit from the same tools and techniques used by youth with anxiety disorders. It may be helpful for youth who experience high levels of stressful situations to learn adaptive skills for managing stress in order to prevent the development of an anxiety disorder.




Symptoms of everyday stress may include:

  • Worrying about tests or grades in school, but generally is able to move on and still enjoys activities and free time without interference from worry.
  • Missing mom and dad or home when away for a few days or a week or longer (like at summer camp or teen tour), but able to get through the time with friends and fun.
  • Feels anxious to start a new school year or new program, or go to a new event where they might not know too many other kids or know what to expect, but still goes and ends up making the best of it.
  • Feels anxious to say hello to kids they don't already know, or to speak or perform in public, but ends up doing it and makes the best of it.
  • Having trouble sleeping alone or sleeping through the night, but while they struggle from time to time, they generally get back on schedule.

Is it Time to Seek Treatment?

Having trouble deciding if it is time to seek treatment? A basic guideline is to think of (A) Intensity, (B) Frequency, (C) Interference and (D) Duration:

A. Intensity:  How intense is the anxiety or stress your child is experiencing? Does it seem more intense than what you might expect for someone that age in the same situation? Or is it in the range of what you might expect, but given that there are stressful things going on lately they’ve just been more anxious than usual?

B. Frequency:  Is anxiety too frequent?  Is it an issue more often than you’d like – almost every day, more days than not? Does the anxiety come up almost every time the person is faced with the situation or thing that disturbs them more than other kids?

C. Interference:  Is it interfering? Think of how it might be getting in the way at school, how well your child is doing academically but also how much he enjoys going to school, how much he’s getting out of the experience, or how he is functioning when in school.

  • Is the anxiety getting in the way of your child’s day-to-day activities or school functioning? 
  • Is it difficult to make new friends, keep friends, or enjoy time with friends? 
  • What about family relationships? Is anxiety making things tense at home where people are getting into arguments or feeling like they have to “work around” the anxiety? 
  • Finally, how much is it bothering your child? Does he seem very distressed because the anxiety is intense? Is your child noticing how difficult things are in different situations? Is it hard for your child to stop feeling anxious or to distract once it starts? 

D. Duration:  Has it been going on longer than a few months? Does it last or cause problems even over the summer break in different ways than during the school year? 


Symptom Checker

If you’re not sure where to start, take a moment to complete our “Symptom Checker”. Our symptom checker allows you to click on the symptoms that are consistent with what you’re seeing in your child and provides personalized feedback on your child’s symptom status and recommendations for next steps.

By answering a few short questions, you will get some feedback about which categories to learn more about next.

Use the Symptom Checker

Child Anxiety Tales

The Child Anxiety Tales program is an online parent-training program designed to equip parents with skills and strategies they’ll need to help their children better manage anxiety. The program is based on the latest evidence in the treatment of child anxiety and on cognitive-behavioral principals shown to be effective in helping anxious youth. Child Anxiety Tales is an interactive and engaging program that can be completed at your own pace from the privacy and convenience of your own computer. It is not a treatment but an online educational program for parents.
Click below to view a demo or to learn more:


Coping Cat Parents

CopingCatParents.com was developed to serve as a comprehensive and evidence-based resource on child and adolescent anxiety. Here you will get only information backed by research and tips and strategies that have evidence to support their use. We have brought together relevant resources, tools, and tips from the experts in the field that will be informative, and help you feel confident as you move forward in helping your child. Click on any of the links below to learn more: