Anxiety symptoms are currently the number one cited health problem in America today with 5% to 10% of children being at risk. This rate increases among children with ADHD. While it is normal to experience worry and fear, it is important to be able to distinguish between healthy levels of anxiety and unhealthy levels of anxiety.
Physical sensations of anxiety include headaches, nausea, sweating and may be accompanied by the emotional experience of nervousness and fear. When anxiety is severe, children can have trouble thinking, learning, concentrating, and making decisions.
Separation anxiety, sensitivity to loud noises, and fear of the dark are all common worries that lesson as we grow and mature. Puberty can normally bring on additional feelings of self consciousness that often increases symptoms of anxiety. Frustrations in social relationships and school performance are also common sources of anxiety in children and while normal, if they don’t subside, can interfere with learning and be a cause for concern.
Similarly, it can be difficult to recognize childhood depression. All children feel sad or low at some point in their lives. Depression, however, is persistent and interferes with functioning. 10%-30% of children with ADHD also have depression.
Depression may result from academic frustrations, social isolation, and hopelessness at not being at to manage learning. Life stressors make children at risk for depression as well, such as death of a family member, or parental divorce).
Knowing when a child needs professional help is often difficult to discern. We do not want to minimize symptoms that need attention nor do we want to exaggerate problems that are normal to adjustment. Physicians may be quick to write a prescription without exploring other conditions that have the same symptoms of depression and anxiety. Your child may have omega-3 deficiency, low thyroid function, food sensitivities like celiac disease, sugar addiction, adrenal exhaustion, hormone imbalances or nutrient deficiencies, which have all been implicated in symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy, is the treatment of choice for childhood depression and anxiety before medication is ever considered. The best way to manage the effects of stress on the body is to start with your body and breath. This takes your attention off the situation that’s stressing you and by breathing slowly and deeply, you can control the most basic level of the brain, our brain stem.
Deep breathing circumvents our stress response, which is why so many cultural traditions and therapeutic traditions recommend that you start by watching and deepening your breath. Once you can take the physical aspects of stress out of the picture, you can learn to observe your own thinking that is distorted and contributing to your stress response.
The quality of our thoughts is severely impacted by depression and anxiety. Our thoughts become much more catastrophic, hopeless, helpless, negativistic, judgmental, and worrisome. If we can separate ourselves from our depressive and anxiety thoughts and calm our bodies down, we can have a major impact on many symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Continued stress, or not learning to interrupt the bodies stress response, can cause depression and anxiety in even young children. Once a link between stress and mood disorders is formed in the brain, children may be prone to depression and anxiety for the rest of their lives
Stressors affect different people in different ways and not all children develop mood disorders from continued emotional distress. If you are concerned that your child is at risk and are not able to manage his or her symptoms with traditional calming and breathing techniques, feel free to contact the psychological practice of Malec, Herring and Krause and ask to be referred to one of their child and adolescent associates, specializing in the treatment of childhood mood disorders.