All children have fears. However, when fears and worries become so consuming that they interfere with a child’s ability to concentrate, relax, or even function, then they may have an anxiety disorder. According to the CDC, 7.1% of children aged 3-17 years in the U.S. have been diagnosed with anxiety – that’s 4.4 million kids.
Causes of Anxiety Disorders
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there are five types of anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. In this article, we are primarily addressing generalized anxiety disorder.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that carry signals between neurons and other cells in the body. Two of these important neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine – can affect mood, fears, and anxiety when they are not at the proper levels.
A child can inherit anxiety from a parent, just like they can inherit other traits. Additionally, children can learn anxious behaviors from those around them. For example, if a mother is a perfectionist and often stresses about that, then a child could begin to act the same.
The onset of an anxiety disorder can be brought on by trauma. For example, abuse, severe illness, death in the family, divorce, or other emotional situations can trigger anxiety.
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Persistent worrying, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia are symptoms commonly associated with generalized anxiety disorder. However, there are a number of other physical and emotional symptoms as well. Sweating, muscle aches, and nausea can be warning signs, as well as tremors and fatigue. Emotional symptoms include constant fears of danger and difficulty facing uncertainty. Social withdrawal, chronic pain, and migraines are possible complications caused by generalized anxiety disorder. Some children also refuse to go to school or participate in activities.
How to Help Your Child’s Anxiety Disorder
In new, stressful, or triggering situations, it’s important that parents stay calm, as children look to them to see how to react. Teach your children problem-solving techniques when they are faced with difficulties, rather than merely taking over and solving things for them. They need to learn how to face fears and manage their anxiety.
Help them find balance
Low serotonin levels can cause your child to feel anxious or depressed. An unhealthy gut is directly correlated to serotonin production. Therefore, you need to make sure your child eats foods with live cultures like yogurt, limits antibiotic use, and takes a probiotic daily. Talk to your doctor about other ways to boost your child’s serotonin level, including the use of medications.
Make sure their needs are met
Anxiety is often worse if a child is not sleeping well, drinking plenty of water, and eating healthy meals. It’s also vital that they get daily outdoor exercise in the form of free play. The pressure from being overscheduled is real for both children and adults. Make sure your whole family has plenty of downtime.
Teach them how to cope
Work with your child to find ways to help relieve their fears, worries, and anxiety. There are various coping strategies they can try. First, your child should take deep breaths and try to relax their muscles. Doing shoulder shrugs may help. Using a stress ball, writing down their feelings, or reframing their thoughts may also provide relief and restore a sense of calm.
If your child is easily overwhelmed, unnecessarily fearful, and often anxious to the point where it’s disrupting their everyday life, it is time to talk to a health professional to see if they may have an anxiety disorder. The good news is that anxiety disorders can be treated, and your child can find their wonder and joy in life once again.