What it Looks Like
Anxiety can look different from one person to the next. Anxiety is excessive worrying or fear, but people, especially children, may have a difficult time expressing those emotions, or they may not even realize that is what they are feeling. As a result, anxiety may not be the obvious culprit, but might look more like an anger problem or an attention deficit issue. Here are some indications of an anxious child:
-Irrational or excessive fear
-Worrying about worry
-Difficulty with transitions or changes in plans
-Withdrawal or Avoidance
-Fidgeting or Restlessness
-Difficulty with the unknown/asking many detailed questions, often about adult issues
-Being very particular/excessively trying to exert control over situations
-Complaining of physical pains, especially stomach aches
Some of these behaviors may be normal if they aren’t causing significant problems, or they may indicate other issues, so it is important to get the opinion of a mental health professional.
Why We Have it
We all experience anxiety from time to time, and we can thank a part of the brain, called the amygdala, for this. The amygdala’s job is to protect us from dangerous situations. When it senses something dangerous (whether real or not) it tells yours body to either get ready for a fight, run away, or freeze. This happens so fast, we often don’t have the chance to tell your brains when there is nothing to be afraid of, and before we know it, there are hormones and adrenaline rushing through us- which can change our breathing, heartbeat, make our muscles tense, make us sweaty or give us a stomach ache.
Think of your anxiety like a smoke alarm. A smoke alarm will go off any time there is smoke, whether you just burned a piece of toast, or there is a fully raging fire. Your amygdala may be getting you ready to fight a wild animal, and it doesn’t know that introducing yourself to a new friend is not actually dangerous, it’s just an unfamiliar experience.
So think of your anxiety as your protector, guardian, warrior, or super hero. It wants to keep you safe. Now the only question is, how do you let your protector know when you don’t need protecting?
A Few Strategies for Coping with Anxiety
1. Choose an object to hold your worries: Anxiety will get worse if we just hold onto in and never let it out. Denying fear or never telling anyone how we feel can make it worse, and at times this can turn into anger. It can be helpful to talk to a friend of family member. Other ways to let out our fears would be to write them out. This can be through journaling, or writing down thoughts to keep in a safe container, or destroying them in some way (like ripping or crumbling the paper). We may need an object to hold onto our thoughts and fears for us when they feel overwhelming. This can be a stuffed animal, a “worry stone,” or crafting your own “worry pet” or “worry doll.” Sometimes we need some support in carrying those big feelings.
2. Distract Yourself: Sometimes, it may be necessary to simply get your mind off of your problems. This can be done in many ways. What makes you happy? Listening to music, dancing, going for a walk, spending time with loved ones, engaging in something artistic, or exercising are a few examples. The key to making this strategy work is mindfulness. This means, that when you mind wanders back to those fears or unpleasant thoughts, bring your focus and attention back to your activity and think about what it is you like about it and engage your senses. For example, if you are out for a walk and your worry about that upcoming test creeps up, bring your attention back to the sound of birds singing.
3. Breathing and Bubbles: Blowing bubbles is a fantastic way to focus on your breathing and let your fears float away! Imagine that you are a bubble. As you breathe in, focus on your body being filled with air, just like a bubble. As you slowly blow out your breath, feel your body relax. Focus simply on the bubble as it gets bigger, until it leaves the wand and floats through the air. After you have practiced this exercise a few times, you can try this even if you don’t have bubbles with you by simply imagining your thoughts as bubbles floating away while you breathe in and out.