Anxiety can act as our body’s natural alarm system. It signals to us when there is a possibility of danger. Yet when this response arises too frequently or intensely and doesn’t match actual situations, it can interfere with our lives and cause great distress.
Every person experiences anxiety. Yet there is an increasing concern for anxiety among children, youth, and seniors.
Martha Butler & Melissa Pang, Current Issues in Mental Health in Canada: Child and Youth Mental Health, Publication no. 2014-13, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 5 March 2014.
In 2009, students in grades 7 to 12 shared their experience with mental health:
One in ten students rated their own mental and emotional health as poor or fair.
One in four students reported being bullied at school.
40% of students felt constantly under stress and anxious.
One in four students visited a mental health professional in the past year.
Anxiety can be experienced through diverse sensations, thoughts, feelings or behaviours. Here are some of common symptoms experienced:
Physical Sensations such as increased heart rate , shallow breathing, tight chest, stomach ache, headache, “Butterflies”
Feelings or Emotions such as worries, apprehension, fear, dread, panic
Cognitive/Thought Patterns such as ruminating or obsessing “What if?!” scenarios, scanning for anxiety, overreacting, lashing out, threat
Behaviour such as withdrawing, isolating, fast repetitive talking, jitters, Avoiding – not going to school or work or avoiding people, thoughts, emotions...
One of the higher causes of anxiety are genetics and temperament such as being shy or timid which relates to being reserved or displaying nervousness without major experiences.
Another cause is parental expectations, which can be experienced in children due to possible pressures of having to perform. Sometimes parents may suffer from anxiety and if parents do not model effective coping strategies, kids do not learn how to regulate themselves.
Parents need to learn to be less overprotective which can be taught. It is ok to feel distressed sometimes as it helps us problem solve and find solutions as well as feel competent overcoming difficulties.
A fixed mindset can also activate anxiety as it dwells on fear of failure and not being good enough. A fixed mindset develops when abilities are praised rather than efforts.
This is where positive psychology can come in. It helps to give tools to look at what has been achieved and about rewiring the brain to see the positive versus hanging in the negative.
Teach children the language of feelings to help them understand them, without judgement. Once young people are able to feel their anxiety, they can then expand their repertoire of positive emotions and solutions to build confidence and competence and overcome anxiety knowing they have a choice.
If you are genetically inclined to feel anxious; exercise, participate in sports so you are able to burn off any excessive cortisol.
Make social connections. Arrange dates and events since belonging is one of the precursors for happiness. Interested in creating Confidence and Connection? Check out the new group coaching for young people from 12-16 years starting October 14th. https://shoutout.wix.com/so/40NItMN71?cid=7adb0d8f-4072-49fd-b71d-88ae186d4712#/main.
If you feel afraid doing new things because of your anxiety, start with something small and do it anyway. You can also do so with the help of support. The technique is called exposure therapy.
As an adult try to be open to your kids and address different topics. Talk with your kids about uncomfortable subjects or situations such as Covid, divorce, death or similar to avoid pretending or suppressing of feelings in the long run. Give kids as much agency as possible to show them they matter and that their feelings matter to be able to support their well-being.
Give yourself downtime such as reading, walking, chatting or daydreaming or listening to music as well as deep abdominal breathing or even cold showers to ease anxiety and get back in the present moment and your body.
You can also watch a sunset, look at a favorite picture, give your own arm a massage; notice the feel of grass under your feet; run cool water over wrists; drink tea.