“Just calm down!” “Relax!” These are a couple of common phrases often told to people that might be struggling with anxiety. If only it were that easy! For a child (or adult) who struggles with anxiety, these phrases can feel pretty frustrating to hear, because if it were that easy they wouldn’t be struggling to begin with. Anxiety is a very real thing. And it can manifest in some pretty powerful ways, impacting both mind and body. So what exactly is anxiety? How can you identify its presence in a child’s life? And, what could you do to help?
Believe it or not, anxiety (in a low, manageable sense) can actually be helpful to us. Sometimes it provides that boost to study harder for that test you’re worried about, or it might alert you to a present danger and help you seek safety while you’re out in the woods and you come across a pack of wolves. Well, hopefully you’re not coming across a pack of wolves. But, hey you never know. The problem lies when anxiety grows beyond its helpfulness and begins getting in the way of life. For example, maybe your child has a pretty intense meltdown any time they’re separated from you. Or, maybe your child gets physically sick every morning on her way to school, throwing up and refusing to get out of the car. Maybe your son constantly worries about all the things that could go wrong with his health, your health, his test, his basketball game, and his dog. These are just a few ways that anxiety can grow and get in the way of life. I like to think of anxiety like an alarm system, alerting our minds and bodies of a potential threat. What happens with problematic anxiety is that the alarm sounds (and continues sounding) even when it’s unnecessary, and somehow we can’t seem to find the off button.
If you think your child might be struggling with anxiety, look for one or more of the following:
- excessive worry
- intense fear
- trouble concentrating
Stress and anxiety can also manifest in physical symptoms such as (but not limited to): nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, tingling, and pain/discomfort in the chest. Always consult with your pediatrician for guidance on evaluating these physical symptoms if they are present in your child.
The good news is that there is hope and help available. You and your child do not have to continue suffering with anxiety alone. Anxiety is very common, and there are steps you can take to find the help you and your child need. Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns and ask about counseling options. A counselor can help assess and create a plan to help teach you and your child skills that can help decrease and manage the anxiety so that your child can live a happier and calmer life.
Anaely (Ani) Hernandez Johnson, LPC-MHSP
Henegar Counseling Center
1815 McCallie Avenue
Chattanooga, TN 37404