When anxiety gets in the way of growing up healthy
Let’s say you’re the next batter up in a championship baseball game and the bases are loaded. Your team’s down by one point and there are two outs. You sure don’t want to strike out. You may feel your heart racing, your palms sweating and your legs shaking. That type of “adrenalin rush” can actually be good for focus and a surge of strength to help you hit the ball out of the park!
But sometimes that type of situation can be paralyzing to kids. Or it may cause so much anxiety that they feel overwhelmed, burst out in tears or storm off the field. That isn’t fun for anyone, including the parents. It may just mean that your son or daughter isn’t cut out for sports, but it could also be a sign that there are some underlying mental health issues that need to be addressed.
How much worry is too much?
Anxiety helps get us motivated and out of dangerous situations. But when “nerves” start to interfere with normal day-to-day activities, it can affect performance, grades, relationships and overall health and happiness. Mental health problems in young people are associated with substance abuse, trouble with the law, economic hardship, and even the risk of suicide.
Less than half of children with mental health problems get treatment, services or support. Untreated mental health needs among children and youth affect not only the young person and their family, but their schools, communities, workplaces and the nation as a whole.
Regular anxiety becomes a disorder when young people have out-of-proportion responses to things most of us cope with easily. Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. In the past 10 years, there has been increasing recognition of anxiety in young people by health care providers, including a 17% increase in anxiety disorder diagnosis.
How can we raise happy kids?
Teaching a child to change their perspective on a situation is the primary way for them to learn to manage their anxiety. “Think of it like pruning a tree,” says Dr. Kelly Delahunty, a pediatrician from Hudson Physicians. “Just like a tree gets mis-shaped and weaker when left unattended, anxiety can be “pruned” by learning how to “cut out” negative thoughts and replace them with different thoughts. This makes the tree much stronger.”
There are a variety of methods for kids to learn to manage their anxiety. “A therapist can help both the child and their family members with coping mechanisms for anxiety,” say Dr. Janette Concepcion, a clinical psychologist practicing in Oakdale, MN. “Kids have developmental needs that must be understood in their assessment and treatment, and it’s significantly different from adults.” She recommends finding a therapist who is trained in diagnosing and treating kids and teens. Ask your physician or school counselor for recommendations.
Dr. Delahunty and Dr. Concepcion have teamed up to provide a series of seminars for parents to help recognize and deal with mental health issues in children and teens. See a full list of our classes and events & register online. It is free and open to the public. “We want to bring more awareness to this important health and economic issue to our community, and provide tools for parents to raise happy, healthy kids,” said Dr. Delahunty.