Anxiety is becoming more prevalent in our children. There are several reasons for this, including faster paced lifestyles, busy schedules, and lack of good health habits, such as a healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep. While temperament can play a role and predispose certain children to developing an anxiety disorder, lifestyle factors may have a larger influence, meaning most anxiety disorders can be treated successfully without medications. It is important to understand that anxiety in children can present in many different ways. It can range from extreme shyness, to aggressive behavior. It can manifest as physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, and even asthma. Children with anxiety may have difficulty sleeping due to worry, or they may have anxiety because they aren’t getting enough sleep to begin with. Untreated anxiety can lead to severe consequences, such as drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, and may also be associated with other mental health disorders. Anxiety disorders an estimated 13% of children ages 9-17 and are becoming almost as prevalent in younger children as well. If you suspect your child suffers from anxiety, you should discuss the issue with his or her healthcare provider. You may also request the assistance of the school counselor or psychologist in having your child properly evaluated and diagnosed. If you know your child suffers from anxiety, here are a few Natural things to try:
1) Rescue Remedy–this is a Bach Flower Remedy formula that is especially helpful for anxiety and trauma. The recommended dose is 4 drops under the tongue; however, this also comes in a spray, topical cream, and lozenge form. In my practice, children seem to respond especially well to this remedy and having something that is safe for them to take as needed gives them a measure of control over the anxiety. Rescue Remedy can be especially helpful for test anxiety or specific phobias. The tincture does contain alcohol as a preservative, so I generally recommend that children use the lozenges or the topical cream.
2) Sleep–children who aren’t getting a good night’s sleep are more prone to anxiety due to alterations of brain chemistry. Making sure your child is getting an adequate amount of sleep is important. If your child seems to have enough sleep, you may consider having him or her evaluated for a sleep disorder that may be interfering with the normal sleep cycles. Addressing any underlying sleep issue should help many who suffer from anxiety disorders.
3) Chamomile tea–this nervine herb is excellent for helping to calm the entire nervous system and is safe for children of any age. I usually recommend drinking this tea before bed time to help children prepare for a good night’s sleep. This tea is also a good tummy soother and may help with some of the physical manifestations of anxiety.
4) Craniosacral therapy–this energy medicine therapy involves the use of touch and energy to restore balance to the body. It is extremely helpful for a variety of mental health disorders, including anxiety and is also safe and effective in children. I recommend finding a practitioner who specializes in Craniosacral therapy for children since their needs are sometimes different from adults’. Most Cranialsacral therapists are also licensed Healthcare Practitioners, such as Massage Therapists, Chiropractors, Naturopaths, Nurses, and even Medical Doctors.
5) Homeopathy–there are too many remedies to give specific recommendations in a blog post, but homeopathy can be an effective tool for treating children with anxiety disorders. Homeopathy is a modality used by Registered Homeopaths as well as some Naturopaths, Nurse Practitioners, and Medical Doctors. It is important to find a Practitioner who practices Constitutional Homeopathy, and has had the appropriate training in how to correctly prescribe homeopathic remedies (ask what their training/credential entailed).
6) Nutritional Supplements–sometimes nutrient deficiencies can lead to or exacerbate anxiety disorders. Nutrients such as Essential Fatty Acids (EPA & DHA), B vitamins, Magnesium, and Calcium may be helpful for some children with anxiety. You should consult with a Naturopathic Doctor to get specific recommendations for supplements and dosages.
7) Diet–eliminating foods that can add to stress and anxiety is a must. Specific ingredients such as caffeine, MSG, artificial flavorings and colorings, and food preservatives may cause a change in brain chemistry that can exacerbate or even cause anxiety. Refined and processed foods, such as white sugar and flour should also be eliminated. Sometimes children are sensitive to specific foods, such as wheat (gluten), and simply eliminating the offending food can make a noticeable difference.
Children with serious anxiety disorders, especially those associated with other mental health diseases such as depression, obsessive compulsive behaviors, and eating disorders, should be evaluated and treated by a pediatric psychiatrist. It is important to see a pediatric specialist, since pharmaceutical treatments for children can be very different than treatments for adults with the same diagnosis. If you prefer to avoid medications altogether, consider seeing an orthomolecular psychiatrist–a doctor who specializes in treatment of mental health disorders with high doses of nutrients rather than pharmaceutical drugs. Many conditions, including anxiety, can be safely managed with appropriate nutritional intervention, a much safer alternative to some medications.
It is also important to be aware that severe anxiety that starts suddenly may be a symptom of trauma. If you suspect your child has been abused, you should contact the appropriate authorities immediately. Even if your child is not able to verbalize what happened, you should have him or her evaluated by a child psychologist, who can help you navigate the system if abuse is suspected.
About the Author: Dr. Bowker is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Snohomish Valley Holistic Medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Bowker serves as a Board member for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She has also been a guest speaker for community organizations and instructor of several community health classes. For more information, please visit her primary website: www.snovalleyholistic.com