Anxiety is leading a troubling trend in America. Mental illness is on the rise. Considered normal in situational occurrences; anxiety becomes abnormal when it blankets daily living. For anxiety to be considered a disorder, it must be pervasive in its origins. Unfortunately, too many children and adolescents are functioning in a pool of excessive worry. We must actively work to keep them from drowning.
What is Anxiety?
Plainly put, it is excessive worry that can last weeks and months at a time.
Anxiety can be categorized into three primary groups according to symptoms:
Generalized Anxiety: People may experience irritability, muscle tension, frequent somatic complaints (headaches and stomachaches with no underlying medical condition noted), sweating, inability to complete thoughts, inability to fall asleep or to remain asleep, feeling “wound-up” or “on-edge” and most notably feeling as if he/she cannot control the worry. The topic of worry could be stagnant or change from day-to-day with no specific trigger.
Panic Disorder: People will experience a sudden attack of anxiety. Symptoms surface differently among individuals; however, most will share the following: shortness of breath, heart palpitations/heart racing, sweating excessively, trembling, feelings of choking and impending doom. Individuals become overly focused on the attack itself and, of course, worried about future panic attacks, which only works to intensify the disorder.
Social Anxiety Disorder: Adolescents feel anxious in social or performance situations such as school, after-school activities, work, and regular social gatherings. Teens may be concerned about rejection, judgement, and embarrassment. While this may seem normal for many in certain moments in time, someone who deals with this disorder may be worried about the social events weeks before it occurs. Students may avoid social situations and decline actively participating. A child may sweat, blush, tremble, or feel extreme nausea. Some children may even vomit.
What is normal worry versus a true anxiety disorder? First, you must ask a few simple questions.
- Does the anxiety interfere in the person’s daily functioning?
- Does the anxiety create troubling physical symptoms?
- Does the anxiety co-exist with depression or OCD or PTSD?
Who Is Most Likely To Suffer:
- Children/Adults who experience abuse (physical/verbal) or trauma
- Children/Adults with a family history of anxiety or depression
- Children/Adults with the co-occurrence of other health disorders (mental and otherwise: depression, OCD, PTSD, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep apnea, mitral valve prolapse, PMS – the list is extensive)
- Girls/Women (Related to possibly fewer self-restrictions in reporting to doctors)
- Children/Adults who misuse alcohol and substances
- Personality traits (timid, people who have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, extremely shy individuals)
It is imperative that all people understand that anxiety is highly treatable with natural interventions. In fact, most sufferers fare better without medication due to the nature of the illness.
Medication: If anxiety is medicated the patient does not learn to become comfortable with the rise and fall of the anxiety and, as a result, a patient may have difficulty overcoming the disorder. However, some individuals may find help in a combination of medication and therapy. If medication is desired, a student should meet with a psychiatrist as he/she will be the expert in the medication and the illness.
Antidepressants are typically used to treat anxiety disorders. Because we are dealing predominantly with young people ages 18 and under, it is worthy to note that any medication prescribed will be considered off-label. Off-label means the medication is not originally designed for their growing bodies and minds and, therefore, may create significant side-effects including suicidal ideation and behavior. In many cases, medication can worsen symptoms in children and adolescents. Most psychotropic medications work slowly. This can be frustrating for youth, families, and clinicians. It may take up to two to three months to see improvement. It is important to note that research states repeatedly that anxiety sufferers benefit most from consistent therapy, exercise and diet alterations.
Treatment: As with all anxiety disorders, forms of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are found to be most effective. The person must learn to experience the anxiety, realize it will rise and fall, and cope with the associated feelings. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that can help people with anxiety disorders. It teaches a person healthy alternative ways of thinking, feeling and behaving in relation to anxiety-producing situations.
Exposure Therapy is excellent for those who struggle with phobias and other anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy exposes the individual to the feared situation (spiders, flying, socializing) and reteaches his/her brain to no longer see threat where only threat was experienced. When the brain is continually exposed to the spider in a controlled environment, the brain begins to slowly recognize the spider as benign rather than an avenue that leads to a panic attack and the feelings of impending doom.
Social Anxiety Group Therapy allows the student to practice facing the fear-inducing social situations so desperately needed to reduce and eliminate the anxiety. It takes practice communicating and the group is a perfect avenue for this treatment. Be sure the group you choose focuses solely on social anxiety in its treatment as many groups exist without specifying the goal. The group needs to be targeted at social anxiety.
In all treatment, it is the goal of the individual to understand the CATASTROPHIC thought will most likely NOT come true. The catastrophic thought is not protecting him/her. The anxious thoughts keep the student stuck not safe. It is a falsehood that gets reinforced through obsessive worrying and avoidance behaviors. Whether it be a fear of poor health, spiders, rejection or giving a speech in an elementary class- the underlying issue is the same: thinking errors. Big, fat thinking errors. What is good about thinking errors? If they can be learned, they can be unlearned. It takes time and patience is required but it is possible to eliminate anxiety from your child’s life.
Foods Known To Aid In Reducing Anxiety:
- Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon
- Chia seeds
- Ground flax seed
- Whole grains
- Blueberries and other fresh fruit
- Dark leafy greens
- Animal products high in B vitamins. Keep portions moderate. If at all possible, purchase organic and grass-fed. For vegetarians and vegans, nutritional yeast is a viable option, as well as, supplementing. You cannot negate B-12 from your diet or your brain will not function properly.
- Probiotic-rich foods: kefir, sauerkraut, whole grain sourdough bread, kombucha, kimchi, whole-fat and plain yogurt.
Drink green tea, lemongrass tea and chamomile tea for their calming effects.
- Exercise is not a simple request. It is a must when faced with anxiety. Exercise releases feel-good hormones throughout the body, which improve mood and calm the system. It fights inflammation. It regulates sleep. It improves every health outcome. Make it a part of your daily life and your anxiety will begin to subside. It isn’t an opinion. It is a fact.
- Reducing or eliminating sugar, caffeine and simple carbohydrates is necessary. I know this is difficult but living with anxiety is worse. These dietary choices stimulate and scatter an already overactive brain. The brain needs a chance to heal and sugar/simple carbohydrates prevent the healing.
- People who struggle with anxiety and depression are more likely to abuse substances. Alcohol is a depressant. Initially, it may feel as if it reduces your anxiety or poor mood but over time I assure you it will interfere with your sleep, increase your anxiety and depress your mood further. If you make every other change but don’t address your dependence to substances, you will have a long and difficult road ahead of you. One cannot simply drop a negative behavior. It must be replaced with a positive behavior. Replacing pot with alcohol isn’t solving your problem but simply creating another one. Replacing your pot and alcohol with working out and talk therapy and healthy eating will relieve your symptoms and improve your outlook on life. If you or a loved one is struggling, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for resources in finding help.
Anxiety does not have to be a prison sentence. It is possible to eliminate or greatly reduce anxiety from your life or your child’s life. It may take time and effort but anything worth having in life is worth actively working on. If you are willing to wait 2 to 3 months or longer for medication to work then you must be willing to allow the same time for diet, exercise and therapy to work. Nothing happens overnight but it will happen. Follow my recommendations. Seek help. Make the changes necessary and you will reap the benefits.