Have you ever wondered why your child is so anxious? Anxiety in kids is more common than you might think. In fact, it’s the most common mental health concern for children, and it often starts as young as 6 years old.
If anxiety is not addressed when it first arises, it can lead to life-long issues with mental health. But the good news is that taking a holistic approach to anxiety can make a big difference.
Watch the video or keep reading below to learn more about practical ways to manage anxiety in kids.
Exploring Anxiety In Kids
Feeling anxious vs having anxiety
There is a difference between being anxious and having anxiety. We all feel anxious from time to time, but anxiety is an ongoing experience of symptoms over months or even years.
Some of the more common symptoms of anxiety in kids include:
- A sense of worry that recurs or never fades
- Feeling nervous or on edge
- Worrying about things that are small, or even things that haven’t happened yet
- Trouble sitting still or relaxing
- Being easily annoyed or irritable
It is more common in girls than boys, but boys can still have a hard time with anxiety. In fact, anxiety is often an underlying issue for many kids that we see at Natural Super Kids. But if it starts to impact on your child’s quality of life and ability to be happy and healthy, it’s time to seek help.
What can contribute to anxiety in kids?
Some of the most common factors in anxiety according to Beyond Blue include:
- A family history of mental health concerns
- Personality traits such as perfectionism
- Stressful events or trauma
- Physical health issues such as asthma or an overactive thyroid
But if you take the holistic approach, there are many other contributing factors to consider when it comes to anxiety. Let’s look at some of the common factors we see in the clinic.
The gut-brain connection
The health of the gut can have a significant impact on mental health. One risk factor to consider is antibiotic use. Research shows that even a single course of antibiotics can increase a person’s risk of anxiety and depression.
Use of medications such as the contraceptive pill and even illicit drug use can put teenagers at higher risk of anxiety.
Technology use can have a negative impact on health. When kids are on screens, it’s also about what they are missing out on, such as time outside, spending time with family and being in nature.
Lack of exercise
Exercise is protective of mental health. So if your child is not active on a regular basis, they may be at higher risk.
Sleep quality and quantity
This can be a vicious cycle – poor sleep makes you more reactive, and anxiety can make it hard to sleep well.
An imbalanced diet
The typical Western-style diet can affect the gut, brain and inflammation levels, which all affect mood. There is also a cycle with a processed diet, blood sugar levels and anxiety – anxiety can disrupt blood sugar levels, and blood sugar fluctuations can trigger anxiety.
Research shows that nutrient-dense diets are associated with better mental health outcomes, and poorly balanced diets are linked to poor mental health.
Genetic and metabolic issues
As you can see, anxiety can be complex, with many factors potentially playing a role. That’s why it’s important to understand what the triggers are for our kids, so we can help them to deal with their stresses.
Why is anxiety in kids so common?
Our kids are living in an anxiety-promoting world. There is so much stimulation out there thanks to modern technology, which gives their brains a lot to process. Some even say that anxiety is a normal and rational reaction to the modern world!
But there are other reasons that kids are more prone to anxiety. One significant factor is the role of general brain development in children.
The brain is constantly rewiring and reconnecting itself. In kids, this process goes from the back to the front. The emotional centre, the amygdala, starts to develop quite early. But the pre-frontal cortex that is responsible for self-regulation and higher thinking is last to develop, taking until late teens to early 20s.
This means that a child’s brain is already primed for anxiety because it’s not fully developed. But despite this, there are still steps we can take to support kids if they are experiencing anxiety.
The conventional approach for managing anxiety
When it comes to conventional treatment, there are two main approaches that are common in Australia. Usually the first step will be some form of psychological support such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). For severe or unresponsive anxiety, medication may also be prescribed.
These treatments are important to consider in an integrative approach because they can be effective, particularly in the short-term. CBT is one of the most effective options for anxiety.
Unfortunately, 8 out of 10 kids who receive psychological support will not respond to it long-term. So although it might be helpful in the short-term, it may not help them recover completely from anxiety.
Holistic tips for addressing anxiety in kids
There are several areas that you can look to when it comes to managing anxiety in kids.
Address any underlying triggers
This will be different for every child, depending on their circumstances. It might include testing for genetic and metabolic issues, looking for nutrient deficiencies, assessing gut health and identifying intolerances. For this, it’s best to work with a qualified practitioner who has experience working with kids.
Ensure they consume a nutrient-dense diet
A balanced diet will help to balance blood sugar levels and minimise spikes that can trigger anxiety. Make sure that your child is getting enough protein and healthy fats, as well as choosing complex carbohydrates to keep blood sugar levels steady.
A wholefood diet will also boost nutrients such as omega-3s, zinc, magnesium and iron. One good food to include is pumpkin seeds, which are a rich source of zinc. Pumpkin seeds can be ground and sprinkled over cereal and granola or added to smoothies and baked goods.
Minimise processed foods and sugar
Processed foods and sugar can act as triggers for anxiety. Sugar affects the dopamine receptors, which can throw off the balance of the brain. It also causes issues with fluctuating blood sugar levels. Wherever possible, eliminate added and processed sugars, and opt for wholefood options such as fruit instead.
Add fermented foods
Fermented foods are an important addition for gut health. Research has found that consuming fermented foods is associated with lower levels of social anxiety in teens. Some good options to try include sauerkraut, kefir and kombucha.
Consider supplements if nutrient deficiencies are involved
Supplements may be useful if your child is depleted in nutrients that support brain health. This can also help to boost them up so that they’re willing to make further changes to address their anxiety. If you’re not sure whether your child has a deficiency, it’s best to work with a practitioner.
There are plenty of resources that can help kids of all ages to practice mindfulness. This helps them to cope with situations as they arise and slow down. Some to try include:
Foster a sense of connection
Connection is an important factor when it comes to managing anxiety. This might include connection with the family or even spending time in nature.
The Family Dinner Project has looked at the impact of family meal time and the effect on development. Their studies have found that family meals can boost self-esteem, academic performance and resilience, while reducing the risk of depression, eating disorders, obesity and substance abuse.
Family time doesn’t have to mean dinner together every single night. Even a few meals or outings per week can help to foster a sense of connection as a family.
Address any sleep issues
Plenty of good sleep can be incredibly healing for the mind as well as the body. If your child is struggling to sleep, look for any underlying causes, and implement some good sleep practices.
Using lavender essential oil in a diffuser or in a sleep pillow can help to calm them for sleep. Chamomile tea is another option to consider as a night-time drink before bed.
Interested in learning more about anxiety in kids? Our Naturopath, Susan can help you!
Meet Susan Thomson – a Naturopath, Nutritionist and Wholefood Chef with a passion to help families reconnect with the healing power of real food and home-cooking. Susan is an expert in kid’s health and a facilitator for the Jamie Oliver, Learn Your Fruit and Veg program, aimed at giving kids the confidence to make better food choices. As a Naturopath and Culinary Nutritionist, she provides practical solutions for a range of common childhood conditions but has a special interest in the connection between food and mood – helping families with behaviour struggles, stress, anxiety, depression, OCD, attention disorders and fussy eating.