What Is Anxiety?
We’ve all been anxious. Your heart starts racing, your palms sweat, and you have the sudden urge to run away. Feeling anxious is a natural reaction to new or frightening situations. But when does a little anxiety become too much anxiety? When does being anxious change from a sudden fleeting feeling to a debilitating state of being? Understanding these symptoms of anxiety can help you identify the signs of anxiety in your child or adolescent.
Here are just a few areas of anxiety that we specialize in:
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Why Do We Get Anxious?
An estimated 25% of children and adolescents suffer from anxiety. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to determine if the symptoms your child is feeling are due to anxiety. Below are five symptoms you should look for in your child or adolescent to determine if their out-of-place behaviors could be due to anxiety or something else.
At its core, anxiety is the body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous or new situations. Small levels of anxiety can be somewhat beneficial. Small doses can encourage us to prepare for certain situations such as a big test or performance, or they can help us stay alert and aware. Feeling anxious is a natural bodily function and shouldn’t be feared. Knowing how to identify and cope with anxiety is instrumental to anyone’s mental health. Without treatment anxiety can lead to serious health repercussions like high blood pressure or depression.
5 Symptoms of Anxiety
1.) Difficulty Sleeping
Does your child have a hard time falling asleep, or is their sleep fitful and restless? This could be related to anxiety. The risks of not getting enough sleep extend well past simply being tired the next day, though lasting weariness is a troubling symptom. Not getting enough sleep at night can lead to poor performance at school, an increased risk of injury and various other health problems. A proper amount of sleep is vital for both children and adolescents.
Some sleeping tips include budgeting enough time for sleep. For children aged 3-5 years, 10 to 13 hours of sleep per night is recommended, while children ages 6-13 should get 9 to 11 hours. Additionally, avoid electronic devices, chocolate or caffeinated beverages before bedtime. Using electronics before bed has been shown to suppress melatonin, which keeps your brain awake and alert. Lastly, an average milk chocolate bar can have up to 10 milligrams of caffeine in it, and dark chocolate can contain as much as 31 milligrams.
- Meditate: Encourage your child to focus on breathing slowly while visualizing a serene setting.
- Exercise: Go for a long walk right before bed or do some light yoga together. Exercising releases mood-enhancing endorphins that will help your child have a pleasant night’s sleep.
- Play Music: Try playing soft music while your child is drifting off to sleep. Playing music can lower blood pressure and should help your child fall asleep faster.
Maybe your son or daughter slept the recommended number of hours the night before but is still tired for the rest of the day after they wake up. Chronic fatigue is a common symptom of anxiety and can often be overlooked or attributed to something else. Anxiety can disrupt the signals in the brain, which confuses the body and can distort the internal clock.
Some tips to keep in mind when looking for solutions to combat anxiety fatigue include incorporating exercise into your child’s day at regular intervals, making sure that your child is drinking plenty of water, and ensuring that your child is consuming a balanced diet.
- Omega-3s: Incorporate more omega-3s into your child’s weekly diet. Try making one night “fish night” or consider adding a fish oil supplement to their morning routine. A common way of adding fish oil to a diet is by adding it on top of ice cream.
- 8 Cups of Water Every Day: Send a water bottle with your child to school and ask them to finish it by the time they come home.
- List Making: Work together with your child to make a list of everything they need to do in their day. The process of writing down a schedule can help them cope with their workload on a more manageable level.
Nervous sweating is a very common symptom of anxiety. Sweating is a natural stress response that is related to the fight or flight system. Anxiety-driven perspiration is not limited to one area of the body. Some see the most sweating occur on the hands, feet, forehead or underarms when anxious. If you find that before a big event or performance your child is sweating uncontrollably, try the below tips to combat their body’s fight or flight response. Remember to remind your child that it is OK to sweat when anxious; it’s perfectly normal and natural to get a little damp when they’re nervous.
When trying to combat anxious sweating, provide loose, comfortable clothing that your child is already familiar with, and arrive at your destination with enough time to work through some coping measures. You can start learning effective coping strategies with the help of an experienced and compassionate psychologist. Additionally, encourage your child to practice stressful situations, such as presentations, beforehand at home.
- For Palm Sweating: Let your hands breath. Maybe you child has bunched up their fists or is steadily rubbing their hands along their pant leg. Try encouraging them to relax their arms by their side and count to 10. Repeat this cycle as need until your child’s sweating has lessened.
- Be Mentally Prepared: The more someone thinks “don’t sweat, don’t sweat, don’t sweat,” the more likely their body is to begin over-sweating. Help your child understand that a little sweat is normal when anxious and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Deep Breathing: Try to remind your child that when their body kicks into overdrive, they can remind it who is in control with some deep measured breathing. Take a deep breath in slowly through the nose then release through your mouth with your lips pursed as if to whistle so that the exhale takes 6 seconds. Also, try these three relaxation techniques that can work for you.
4. Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors
When children and adolescents are feeling anxious, they will develop rituals to help themselves cope with their anxiety. If you notice that your child has suddenly begun doing something repeatedly, such as picking at their fingers, braiding their hair, or compulsively organizing a particular item, anxiety might be to blame.
Symptoms that Could Be Anxiety-driven Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors
- Eating Rituals: Some things to watch for at meal time include your child insisting on eating food in a certain order, refusing to eat certain food (that they might have eaten in the past), cutting their food into a specific number of pieces, or tapping their utensil a specific number of times before they begin eating.
- Temper Tantrums: All kids get angry, but if your child launches into a fit of anger if what they are doing has been interrupted or if a daily routine has changed, this might be due to the disturbance of his or her compulsive behavior.
As shown above, anxiety can produce some very real, and physical, symptoms. When experiencing anxiety, nausea can be present with our without the urge to vomit. Typically, nausea is created by the release of adrenaline that occurs when your child becomes anxious. Like sweating, nausea is a natural reaction in response to your body’s fight or flight system. Try to remind your child that feeling a little nausea when anxious is entirely normal and not something to fear.
- Diet: Eating a light meal will help avoid any unnecessary nausea. Indulging in large heavy, greasy meals before stressful situations will only serve to increase your child’s nausea.
- Take a Sip: Encourage your child to take small sips of water to quell their queasy stomach.
- Deep Breaths: Just like when battling anxious sweating, try some deep breathing to get your child’s nausea back under his or her control.
While the above tips and solutions should help with these five symptoms of anxiety, it is important to treat the underlying cause of anxiety in your child. When the above tips aren’t enough it may be time to see a therapist. At Eleos Psychology Center we will work to identify the root of your child’s anxiety and then build a path toward courage, calm and resilience. Our therapists are able to help children understand how their environment affects their thoughts, how their thoughts shape their emotions, and how their emotions impact their behaviors.
At Eleos Psychology Center, we know that each child and adolescent is different and requires individualized care and treatment to live their lives to the fullest. If you would like to learn more about our child and adolescent therapy options, or more about how to cope with your child’s anxiety, our compassionate therapists are here to help.