By Dixie Walker
What is that all-consuming, dreaded “something” for your child? You know — the thing that starts your stomach churning and palms sweating at the first thought of it coming up on your agenda?
My number one dread in life has always been flying. I absolutely hate it! So, when I know of a trip coming up when I’m forced to fly rather than travel by ground, my symptoms of anxiety start revving up with great intensity:
- Fearful thoughts
- Discomfort internally
- Sweaty palms
- No desire to discuss the upcoming trip
It’s no surprise then that apprehensions of many types are an issue for many people — including our kids!
True anxiety actually goes beyond the “normal” state of being worried. It would be typical for your child to worry about the results of an important test in school. Or having to stand in front of classmates to deliver a presentation. It’s not unusual to be afraid of frightening things like tornadoes or snakes. But when our worries and fears begin to affect our ability to function in our daily lives, it’s likely anxiety has taken over.
According to anxiety.org, some common symptoms related to anxiety include:
- Excessive, irrational, or uncontrollable feelings of worry and dread
- Sensations of panic and uneasiness for no apparent reason
- Obsessive thoughts
- Ritualistic behavior
- Trouble sleeping
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle tension
- Inability to remain calm
- Trouble concentrating
- Rapid breathing, or hyperventilation
- Dry mouth
- Cold or sweaty hands and feet
- Trembling or shaking
If you think your child — or yourself — is struggling with anxiety, consider these coping methods to help (adapted from a list by Psychology Today):
Make a problems list
Form a list of specific problems/fears to overcome. Then break each problem down into a series of tasks, and rank the tasks in order of difficulty. Attempt the easiest task first and keep on returning to it day after day until you feel fairly comfortable with it. Give yourself as long as you need, then move on to the next task and do the same thing, and so on.
Use relaxation techniques
One common and effective strategy, called ‘deep breathing,’ involves modifying and regulating your breathing:
- Breathe in through your nose and hold the air in for several seconds.
- Then purse your lips and gradually let the air out, making sure that you let out as much air as you can.
- Continue doing this until you are feeling more relaxed.
A second strategy that is often used together with deep breathing involves relaxation exercises:
- Lying on your back, tighten the muscles in your toes for 10 seconds and then relax them completely.
- Do the same for your feet, ankles, and calves, gradually working your way up your body until you reach your head and neck.
Other general strategies your child can use for relaxing include listening to classical/instrumental music, taking a warm bath, reading a book, chatting with a friend, or playing sports.
Implement simple lifestyle changes
These might include:
- Simplifying life beyond the necessary (school, church, family)
- Having a schedule and keeping to it
- Getting enough sleep
- Exercising regularly (for example, walking, swimming)
- Eating a balanced diet
- Taking time for enjoyable activities
- Connecting with friends to share thoughts and feelings
If your child continues to suffer with severe anxiety despite implementing some of these measures, you may want to seek help through a Christian counseling center. You can check with doctor offices or churches in your area for local centers.
Dixie Walker is a freelance writer of Christian family ministry resources. She and her family reside in Nashville, Tenn.
This article first appeared under the title “Put Your Child’s Anxiety to Rest!” in the April 2018 issue of ParentLife magazine.