What is Anxiety?
Common Types of Anxiety in Children:
Separation Anxiety-afraid of being separated from their parents
Social Anxiety- fear of social situations (like school), and usually very self-conscious and afraid of being judged
Specific Phobias- fear of a specific situation or thing
General Anxiety- fear of the future and or of bad things happening
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7.1% of children aged 3-17 years (approximately 4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety in the US
-These statistics come from the CDC and the National Institute for Mental Heath
Why do children get anxiety?
Children can get anxiety for many reasons. Sometimes it is because of traumatic events(an environmental factor) and often it is due to biological factors (such as genes or brain wiring), other environmental factors (such as parenting or the environment they are raised in) or psychological factors (such as temperament and coping strategies) .
- Thumping heart
- Rapid breathing
- Tense muscles
- Trouble sleeping/fatigue
- Not wanting to go to school
- Avoiding things they are scared of
It is so important to watch for symptoms of anxiety and make sure children get the help they need. Many children hide their emotions including anxiety from their parents and that can be extremely detrimental to their mental health. If you see any potential anxiety symptoms, make sure your kid sees a trained professional who will diagnose and help you find the right path.
Panic attacks are less common in children than teens but it is still important to be able to recognize the signs and have a big of tricks available to help should it happen to you child, or a child near you. It’s also important to know that panic attacks are not tantrums or a child choosing to misbehave and so they shouldn’t be punished for the incident.
Panic attacks are less common for children then teens but they can still happen.
- A feeling of unreality or being detached from themselves
- Chest pain
- Chills or hot flashes
- Feeling choked
- Fear of losing control
- Feeling short of breath
- Nausea or abdominal pain
- Numbness or tingling
- Palpitations or a fast heart rate
How to help:
-Help them feel grounded. This will probably be different for each person but maybe have them lay down and pay attention to all the sensations they are feeling. Have them try focusing on the feeling of gravity. Perhaps do a body scan. This may take some trial and error but grounding can help a lot.
-Have them focus on something else. This can obviously be very hard but simple things like counting can be very beneficial.
-Breath is so important as well. Having them focus on breathing may be hard at the start of a panic attack but after grounding it may be easier. Have them try taking deep breaths and I would recommend breathing with them. Sometimes it helps to narrate and tell them when to breathe in and out.
-Whatever you do, don’t invalidate their feelings or tell them to just calm down. They can’t and it might make them panic more if they feel pressured to stop and aren’t able to.
How can Positive Psychology help children with anxiety?
Positive Psychology is a broad field and there are many things that can help but I am going to talk about gratitude and mindfulness specifically. These two can be tremendously helpful in living with anxiety and can increase a person’s quality of life, especially when paired with other treatments.
Many studies have been done and most studies consist of two groups. One group does gratitude practices such as journaling or writing gratitude letters or writing down three good things. The other group does nothing different, and then both groups record their feelings before and after. In all of these studies the participants who practiced gratitude were happier. In addition practicing gratitude has positive effects on the brain. One part of your brain that is positively impacted is the hypothalamus which regulates stress.
There are many gratitude practices but two of the most popular are gratitude writing and the three good things practice. The goal of both is to simply acknowledge and talk about things you are grateful for.
If you are writing you talk about what you are grateful for, why, and maybe even what made you think of it. An example would be saying I love my mom because she always takes care of me and today she made me lunch which I really appreciated. This a simplistic example but is the general idea. This practice would be best for older kids and teens who are capable of writing and perhaps want to have more privacy. This practice generally takes between 15 and 20 minutes but can be longer.
Another example of gratitude writing is to write a letter to someone you are grateful for and explain to someone why they mean so much to you. They practice is hugely beneficial without being sent and even more beneficial if the letter is actually sent and the other person gets to hear your gratitude. This would also be better for older children who can write.
The three good things practice is similar but you focus on just three good things and don’t go into as much detail. This would be ideal for younger children and could be a family discussion over dinner. Perhaps go around the table and have everyone list three things they are grateful for from the day. This would also be a good opportunity to express gratitude for everyone in the family. Doing this routinely would help tremendously and it is best for parents to lead by example. Starting this practice with young kids would also give them the ability to regularly practice gratitude when they are older and even more likely to get anxiety.
Mindfulness is also an extremely helpful practice and can be used throughout the day. Sometimes it can be more structured such as a meditation, or it could be just a moment of mindfulness during the day where you pull yourself out of autopilot and recognize where you are and what you are doing.
- “Mindfulness positively impacts human functioning.
- Mindfulness can help improve the quality of attention.
- Mindfulness, even though it is an internal quality, can impact interpersonal behavior.
- Mindfulness can help provide greater empathy and compassion.”
Meditation is the most common mindfulness practice and there are so many apps and websites that have meditations. There is also YouTube of course, and mindfulness can always be practiced about the day simply by realizing when you are in autopilot and then focusing yourself back on the present moment through some deep breaths or grounding exercises. Meditation can also be helpful when a child is having trouble sleeping. Some examples of meditations and mindful practices are below:
I believe that a critical part of treating anxiety is education on the subject. I know that children are getting diagnosed with anxiety more frequently and I know that if children were better educated on the topic they would be more capable of handling anxiety if they got. In addition, if everyone learns practices and methods for dealing with anxiety when they are kids, then they will be more equipped to handle it should they get anxiety in their teenage or adult years. To help achieve this goal I think it would be beneficial to create a website and app that could educate children on anxiety through games and videos in addition to offering examples of methods to deal with anxiety such as gratitude or mindfulness. This website would help immensely and combined with an overall societal effort towards treating mental issues, we could see a higher quality of life for the children of the future.
Works Cited: https://docs.google.com/document/d/174ALXK94ctGgo1xfM436YK2wGPo8fx6KgCrj7FvR1Qo/edit?usp=sharing
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