Tips for Anxiety Relief

3 Tips for Children and Teens for Anxiety Relief
by Flora M. Torra, Ed.S.

As parents, it's essential to realize and be aware that our own stresses and fears get absorbed by our children. In other words, they sense what is going on with us especially when they are young, as infants and toddlers. In addition, children that are highly sensitive are very much impacted. Therefore, most of our insecurities and emotions are transmitted, and many times, it is just as important that we learn to regulate ourselves, and for sure, become aware of our nervous tendencies and traits. In many instances we can teach our children how we have learned to cope with and settle ourselves. You can also practice the following Tips with your children.

1. The main thing to remember with anxiety is that the more we resist it, the worse it can become and that eventually it will subside, it will pass. Remember that our bodies have natural rhythmic cycles - it's part of our autonomic nervous system. So, with anxiety what we teach children and adults is to breathe, stay in the present moment, imagine something else, and replace the thoughts with thoughts like, ‘this will pass’ and ‘ I am safe."

Don’t talk them out of it. As a parent, the temptation is to reassure your child with gentle comments in the way of, ‘There’s nothing to worry about,’ or ‘You’ll be fine’. This comes from the purest of intentions but it runs the risk of them feeling as though there’s something wrong with them. The truth is that when anxiety has a hold of them, they can no sooner stop worrying than fly to the moon. As much as they want to believe you, their brains just won’t let them.

What they need to hear is that you get it. Ask them what it feels like for them. They may or may not be able to articulate – and that’s okay. Often, this in itself is such a relief because ‘someone gets it'.

2. Explain why anxiety feels like it does. Out of everything, this is perhaps the most powerful intervention for anyone with anxiety. Anxiety causes the most problems when it seems to come on without any real trigger.

Here is a child-friendly explanation:
‘Anxiety is something that lots of people get but it feels different for everyone. Adults get it too. It happens because there’s a part of your brain that thinks there’s something it needs to protect you from. It switches on when it thinks you’re in danger, so really it’s like your own warrior, there to protect you. Its job is to get you ready to run away from the danger or fight it. People call this 'fight or flight’. It will immediately give your body what it needs to be strong, fast and powerful. It will flood your body with oxygen, hormones and adrenaline that your body can use as fuel to power your muscles to run away or fight. It does this without even thinking.

Sometimes though, the body thinks there’s a threat and fuels you up even though there’s actually nothing dangerous there at all. Have you ever made toast that has got a bit burnt and set off the fire alarm? The fire alarm can’t tell the difference between smoke from a fire and smoke from burnt toast – and it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is let you know so you can get out of there. It works the same way. If you don’t need to run away or fight for your life, there’s nothing to burn all that fuel – the oxygen, hormones and adrenalin. It builds up and that’s the reason you feel like you do when you have this.

When this happens: Your breathing changes from normal slow deep breaths to fast little breaths. Your body does this because your brain has told it to stop using up the oxygen for strong breaths and send it to the muscles to they can run or fight. You might feel puffed or a bit breathless. You also might feel the blood rush to your face and your face become warm.

If you don’t fight or flee, the oxygen builds up and the carbon dioxide drops.
This can make you feel dizzy or a bit confused. Your heart beats faster to get the oxygen around the body. Your heart can feel like it’s racing and you might feel sick.

Fuel gets sent to your arms (in case they need to fight) and your legs (in case they need to flee). You might feel a bit sweaty. You might feel like you have butterflies in your tummy. You might also feel sick, as though you’re going to vomit, and your mouth might feel a bit dry.

As you can see, there are very real reasons for your body feeling the way it does when you have anxiety. It’s all because that fierce warrior part of your brain – is trying to protect you by getting your body ready to fight or flee. Problem is – there’s nothing to fight or flee. Don’t worry though, there are things we can do about this.’

The problem with anxiety is that your ‘heroic warrior’ (part of the brain) is calling all the shots but we know that you're really the boss. We sometimes give it a name - such as Zep and say that Zep actually thinks it’s protecting you, so what you need to do is let it know that you’ve got this and that it can relax. When you get those anxious feelings, that means Zep is taking over and getting ready to keep you safe. It doesn’t think about it at all – it just jumps in and goes for it. What you need to do is to let it know that you’re okay.

3. The most powerful thing you can do to make yourself the boss of your brain again is breathe. It sounds so simple – and it is. Part of the reason you feel as you do is because your breathing has gone from strong and slow and deep to quick and shallow. That type of breathing changes the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your body. Once your breathing is under control, Zep will stop thinking he has to protect you and he’ll settle back down. Then, really quickly after that, you’ll stop feeling the way you do.’ And breathe.

Breathe deeply and slowly. Hold your breath just for a second between breathing in and breathing out. Make sure the breath is going right down into your belly – not just into your chest. You can tell because your belly will be moving. Do this about 5 to 10 times.

Practice abdominal breathing with them as they lay down in bed; by placing a stuffed animal on their belly and watch it move up and down as they inhale and exhale.

They can do this throughout the day - in the car while sitting up; by placing a hand on the chest and one on the belly.

For older teens, they may choose a mantra or phrase they can use such as “I am safe”, “This will pass”; or they can imagine a favorite place like the beach with their eyes open or closed. And follow the steps above like a wave in the ocean.