Anxiety, stress, and worry in children are on the rise in the United States. If your child has major anxiety or just experiencing periods of worry or mild stress, they can experience all different types of issues, including poor sleep habits, irritability, poor academic performance, weight loss, and even can cause major medical problems. If you can aid your child in learning and implementing calming strategies they will be able to use these for a lifetime.
To understand anxiety and how to relax you must know we two different parts of the nervous system; one is the sympathetic and the other the parasympathetic. The sympathetic system is known as the accelerator while the parasympathetic is known as the brakes. Anxiety, stress, and worry are like pressing the gas on the sympathetic system, which is fast acting, like a race car. Now, when one learns to relax, it is like riding a bicycle. It takes much longer to get back where we were before we got into the race car. The parasympathetic is a slower process. It takes much longer to calm down than to become anxious. Think about it. We can experience an ‘anxiety attack’ in seconds but can we experience a ‘calm down attack’ in seconds? Didn’t think so! These two parts of the nervous system are not battling against each other; they are trying to balance each other. Here are four calming strategies to help children with anxiety.
- Take a Mental Vacation… Help your child visualize a place they find relaxing. Have them close their eyes and picture somewhere they really like to go, such as the beach. Ask them what sounds they typically hear there and what the place smells like. Then help them imagine the sounds of the waves crashing, the scent of the salt in the air, or whatever sensory details they described.
- Hold Tight… When people feel that they’re under pressure, they tense up physically. Squeezing a squeeze ball can help your child release that tension. These actions also encourage their to focus on what their hands are doing, distracting them from whatever’s causing their anxiety.
- Relax Head to Toes… Take deep breathing to the next level. If your child is at home or someplace else where they can relax, have them lie down with one hand on their stomach and the other on their chest. Ask them to close their eyes and relax all of their muscles, from the top of the head to the tips of the toes. Tell them to breathe slowly and deeply and imagine the tension draining out of their body.
- Belly Breathing… When people are feeling anxious or tense, they naturally tend to take rapid, shallow breaths. The simple act of breathing slowly and deeply can reduce feelings of stress. Have your child practice this move: Breathe in slowly through the nose…hold for a few seconds…and then slowly exhale through the mouth. Repeat several times.
Stephanie Stiltner, Ph.D., LPCC is the owner and a licensed counselor at Anchored Hope Counseling in Pikeville, KY. Anchored Hope Counseling helps individuals with anxiety, drug addictions, parent-child conflict, and relationship issues, to schedule an appointment go to www.AnchoredHopeCounseling.com