Imaginative children more prone to anxiety

Imaginative children may be more prone to anxiety attacks, a new book has suggested. Anxiety and the Gift of Imagination by Dr Robin Alter looks at the link between creativity and such conditions. And it offers tips to parents on how they can reassure their kids that what they believe to exist might not be real.

Dr Alter, a registered psychologist, said many young people who suffer from anxiety often have overactive imaginations and are unable to distinguish between what is real and what is in their minds: "For a child with a vivid imagination, the monster under the bed is as real as the bed itself."

The book aims to teach children why they have imaginations in the first place, allowing them to view their thoughts and ideas as gifts. It hopes to enable kids to see both their anxiety and themselves in a new light.

Dr Sharon Lewis, a Chartered Psychologist, said: "Anxiety is a feeling characterised by an unpleasant sense of apprehension, together with physical symptoms. Anxiety and fear are on the same spectrum: a danger signal.

"Anxiety is an emotion with adaptive value: when we are anxious, we scan the environment and become vigilant. We look for the source of danger or the cause of the anxiety and respond accordingly. But anxiety symptoms become problematic when they are an inappropriate response to a non-threatening stimulus or when they are severe and chronic in intensity or duration.

"In my view, when children and adults who present in the consulting room with anxiety at the forefront, that anxiety is caused by the presence of unconscious conflicting emotion.  For example, the child experiences conflicting or unacceptable emotions toward their parents - they have both loving and angry feelings toward them.

"Because these emotions are 'unacceptable' or threaten the relationship with the caregiver, they are converted into anxiety manifestations.  In my view, children with insecure attachments – and caregivers who themselves have difficulty dealing with emotions or unresolved emotional trauma – will be most prone to anxiety disorders.

"In terms of 'imaginative children' - when we are anxious, both adults and children seek a rational explanation for this: why am I anxious? where is the danger? However, our cognitive explanations or rationalisations of generalised anxiety are seldom correct."