Phrases Kids Say That Are Code Words For “I’m Anxious”

Anxiety is a common emotion that can present itself in various ways, and it can be difficult to recognize when a child is feeling anxious. It is a natural response that is triggered by the amygdala, a part of the brain that is responsible for protecting us from danger. While anxiety can be beneficial in situations where we are physically threatened, it can become a problem when it is triggered by psychological stressors.

Children may have difficulty expressing their anxiety, but there are certain phrases and behaviors that may indicate that they are feeling anxious. These include expressing worry, feeling stressed, having trouble concentrating or sleeping, experiencing physical symptoms such as stomach aches or irritability, and feeling nervous about specific events or situations.

If you notice any of these behaviors in your child, it is important to be open to the possibility of anxiety and provide support to help them feel safe and secure.

Top phrases kids say

  1. “I’m really worried about something.”
  2. “I can’t stop thinking about this thing that’s bothering me.”
  3. “I’m feeling really stressed out.”
  4. “I can’t concentrate on anything because I’m so anxious.”
  5. “I’m having trouble sleeping because I’m so worried.”
  6. “I’m getting stomach aches because I’m so anxious.”
  7. “I’m feeling really nervous about this event/situation.”
  8. “I’m having trouble eating because I’m so anxious.”
  9. “I’m getting really irritable because I’m so anxious.”
  10. “I’m feeling really jittery and can’t sit still.”
  11. “I’m having trouble breathing because I’m so anxious.”

Let’s take a closer look at what popular phrases mean and how can parents react.

I feel like I’m going to vomit

When someone is feeling anxious, they may experience physical symptoms such as nausea or the sensation of wanting to vomit. This is because during anxiety, the body’s digestion slows down as blood flow is directed to the brain and non-essential functions are conserved to prepare for fight or flight. These physical symptoms are a normal part of anxiety and are not harmful, but they can be uncomfortable.

Children may have difficulty expressing their anxiety, but if they frequently complain of feeling sick or nauseous in specific situations, such as before school or during separation from a caregiver, it may be a sign of anxiety.

To alleviate these symptoms, it is helpful to practice deep, steady breathing, which can send a message to the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for protection) that the person is safe and the fight or flight response is not necessary. This can help to reduce the build-up of anxiety-related chemicals in the body and alleviate nausea.

I don’t want to go to school

Anxiety can often seem irrational because it comes from the instinctual part of the brain. When the body is preparing for fight or flight, the rational part of the brain may shut down to allow for quick action.

This can lead to behaviors like school refusal, even if there are no other issues with school or friends. It is important to explain to children how anxiety works and reassure them that they are capable of handling anxious situations.

Avoiding triggers of anxiety can be tempting, but it is important to allow children to face their fears and learn that they are capable of handling difficult situations.

I am not hungry

During times of anxiety, the body’s digestion process may slow down as the body conserves energy for the fight or flight response. As a result, a person may lose their appetite temporarily. However, once the anxiety subsides, their appetite should return to normal. It is important to note that a person’s appetite may also be affected by their dislike of certain foods, even if they are not feeling anxious.

My tummy hurts

Anxiety can manifest itself in various physical symptoms, including abdominal pain. This type of pain is referred to as functional abdominal pain and is caused by the connection between the brain and the gut. Anxiety can send signals from the brain to the gut, causing discomfort, as well as affect the movement and contractions of the gastrointestinal tract, leading to pain.

If abdominal pain is present along with other symptoms of anxiety, such as racing heart, nausea, tense muscles, and avoidance behaviors, it is likely that anxiety is the cause.

To address this type of pain, it is important to continue with normal activities and not avoid the things that trigger anxiety. This helps to teach the brain that it is possible to be brave and cope with anxiety-provoking situations, rather than always resorting to avoidance.

I feel sad

Anxiety and sadness often go hand in hand, and this is because they are both controlled by the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotions and anxiety. Tears are a common response to anxiety and do not necessarily indicate that something sad has happened. Instead, they are a sign of a brain that is on high alert.

It is important to be a supportive and loving presence for someone experiencing both anxiety and sadness, and to allow them to express their emotions as needed. When the anxiety subsides, the sadness will likely pass as well. Crying can actually be beneficial in these situations, as it has been shown to be healing when people have emotional support and can lead to a newfound understanding of the source of the emotion.

I want to stay with you

Separation anxiety is a common fear that many children experience when they are away from their caregivers. It is driven by a fear that something may happen to the caregiver while they are away. Although the fear is real, it is also temporary and will ease as soon as the child realizes that the caregiver is not there and that they are still okay.

It is important to have quick and confident goodbyes to help the child learn that they will soon feel okay after separation. Validating their emotions and providing comfort can also be helpful. It is important to remember that the brain learns from experience, so the more experience the child has with finding calm after saying goodbye, the quicker they will learn that they can cope with separation.

How to react

When a child is displaying anxiety-related behavior, it’s important to first try to understand the underlying cause. This may involve asking the child questions about what might be troubling them or observing their behavior and seeking to identify any patterns or triggers.

It’s important to provide a calm and supportive presence for the child, and to offer to work together to find ways to cope with any challenges they may be facing.

If the child’s anxiety persists or worsens, seeking the help of a therapist who specializes in working with children may be necessary. It’s important to remember that behavior is often the tip of the iceberg, and that there may be more going on beneath the surface that is not immediately visible.

Tips for reacting to child anxiety:

  1. Validate their feelings: Let your child know that it’s normal to feel anxious and that you understand how they feel.
  2. Encourage them to talk about their anxiety: Encourage your child to express their thoughts and feelings about what is causing their anxiety. This can help them feel heard and understood.
  3. Help them develop coping skills: Encourage your child to try different coping strategies, such as deep breathing or positive self-talk, to help manage their anxiety.
  4. Encourage them to face their fears: While it’s important to support your child, it’s also important to help them learn how to cope with their anxiety by gradually exposing them to their fears in a safe and controlled manner.
  5. Seek professional help if needed: If your child’s anxiety is severe or persistent, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional, such as a child psychologist or therapist.
  6. Take care of yourself: It’s important to also take care of yourself as a parent, as supporting a child with anxiety can be emotionally draining. Make sure to take time for yourself and seek support if needed.


It can be difficult for children and adolescents to express their feelings, especially when they are feeling anxious or distressed. As their caregivers, it can be frustrating and overwhelming to see them struggling and not know how to help.

However, by understanding what they are going through, we can provide them with the support and understanding they need to make sense of their emotions. This can help them feel more secure and confident in navigating the world around them.

If you are having trouble understanding your child’s emotions or if their problems persist, it may be helpful to seek the guidance of a mental health professional who specializes in working with children and adolescents.

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