How to manage anxiety
It is normal to worry. We all worry every day about something or other, don’t we? And sometimes we have BIG worries if perhaps we are seriously ill or have a job interview or a relationship problem.
It is the same for kids, little worries like a spelling test are normal and big worries like a first day at school are just part of life.
Anxiety is different though.
What is anxiety
When you’re not in a stressful situation, and you still feel worried or panicky, that’s when anxiety can become a problem. (Young Minds)
Anxiety is a mix of both worry and fear that leads children to feel overwhelmed and distressed. It affects them physically, mentally and emotionally.
Anxiety can cause children to feel so distressed that it interferes with their day-to-day life, affecting their hobbies, school attendance, friendships and so on. It can be completely debilitating.
What causes anxiety
Many things can cause anxiety including:
- Being around anxious/tense people
- Coping with changes (such as divorce/house moves/ new schools)
- Exam pressure
- Bullying, feeling excluded or ongoing friendships issues
- Family stress around things like illness, housing, debt
- Witnessing or experiencing abuse (including domestic abuse)
What it looks like
Anxiety can manifest in a variety of behaviours and emotions such as panic attacks and meltdowns as well as avoidant behaviours around hobbies, school, mealtimes, and social occasions.
A child can appear withdrawn, clingy, angry or sad or even frightened.
They may complain about physical symptoms such as poor sleep, headaches, low appetite, exhaustion, frequent tummy pains, dizziness and a racing heart
There are so many potential signs and symptoms it is important to get to the root of what is going on.
Do talk to a GP if you feel your child has anxiety, they can suggest ways to help, refer to talking therapies if required and check put physical symptoms to ensure they are not a sign of something else Physical symptoms should always be checked out with a GP.
Liase with school too, as early as possible, so they are aware and able to offer support to you and your child.
There are variety of ways to support a child with anxiety and whilst it is important to empathise with how they feel it is key to stay solution focused and positive. No matter how helpless and hopeless things may seem to your child they need to know you have confidence that things can and will get better.
Here are a couple eof activities focusing on mindfulness. gratitude and breathing that will all help your child manage their anxiety better. They are taking from my books Create Your Own Calm, a wellbeing activity books for kids aged 6-12.
Focus on mindfulness
Lots of research projects have shown mindfulness is brilliant at reducing stress and anxiety Being mindful calms down the bit of our brain (the amygdala) that make us want to ‘fight or flight’
The following activities below are great ways to encourage a child to me be more mindful.
- Eat a small snack quietly, slowly focussing on and appreciating each mouthful of food
- Blow bubbles slowly and concentrate on how they grow, float and eventually pop
- Have a shower and pay close attention to how the water feels on your skin
- Take a mindful walk, looking at all the colours and textures, sights and smells, of nature
- Lie on a blanket on the grass and look for pictures in the clouds.
By taking their focus completely off their worries and fears for a while a child gets a chance to deeply relax their anxious minds and bodies.
Focus on gratitude
Californian scientists found that people who were taught to be more grateful had a 23 percent reduction in cortisol (the stress hormone.) Children will immediately feel happier and more relaxed if they focus on being thankful.
Gratitude is a speedy, simple and proven way to reduce stress!
Here are 2 simple ways to action this
- Encourage your child to write a letter or a card to someone they care about telling them 3 reasons why they are grateful for them.
- Each night, before they sleep, have them share 3 things that they are thankful for from their day (share yours too so this becomes something you are both working on together.)
Focus on breathing
Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine found the neurons which link breathing to to relaxation, and anxiety are embedded in the brain and they pick up on breathing.
Shallow breathing tells the brain there is a reason to panic, breathing deeply tells a brain it can relax.
Teaching your child deep belly breathing can be very useful and put them in control of their panic.
Show your child how to place both hands on their tummy with the finger tips touching over their tummy button Then breathe in and out through the nose. Tell them to inhale deep breaths into their tummy until they feel it inflate like a balloon. They will feel your fingertips begin to separate and join back together again as they breathe out.
The breath out needs to be long and slow
They can do this no matter what situation they are in to manage their anxiety.
Many ways to calm anxiety
There are many more ways to help a child reduce their anxiety including affirmations, visualisation, exercise, yoga, distraction, music, worry time and using colours and scents.
Every child is different so is well worth trying a variety of tools to see which works best for your child and so they have a pick a mix of options for when things feel touch.
There are always ways to reduce anxiety and for your child to hep themselves feel better.