This week we presented a 45-minute free talk about Children’s Anxiety, and judging by the response (we had to book a bigger venue!), anxiety in children is a big issue for a lot of parents and carers.
1 in 4 teens have anxiety, however the median age of onset is 6 years old!
1 in 10 12-17 year olds self harm.
1 in 13 consider suicide.
Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australia of 15-24 year olds and makes up ⅓ of all deaths in that age group.
The frightening thing about these statistics is that 80% of these children aren’t getting the help they need.
Anxiety in children may be more difficult to spot than in adults. Particularly in younger kids who don’t have the skills to articulate how they are feeling.
Being younger does not mean you are EXEMPT from issues like anxiety.
As parents and carers we need to work out what’s a mood swing and normal age appropriate behaviour and what is a red flag.
The Definition of anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. Children can worry about literally anything, and just because we don’t agree with their worries, doesn’t mean it is not very real for them.
Anxiety becomes a diagnosable disorder if it occurs more days than not for 6 months or more.
There’s lots of different “kinds” of anxiety, a diagnosis will only change things through education and support. A label won’t make a difference without change.
So what are our red flags??
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbance
- “What If” thinking
- Overly Shy
- Phobias (e.g. dogs)
- Tummy aches
- Risky behaviour
- Chest pain
- Fast heart
- Shortness of breath
- Refusal to do stuff like go to school, park, family or social events.
- Doesn’t want to use a public toilet (including at school)
- Fidgety, wiggly, shaky
- Sensitive to light or noise
- Talks about or has begun to self-harm
It doesn’t matter if your child has 1 or 100 symptoms of Children’s Anxiety, if these symptoms are impacting on their life and the family’s life, it is worth exploring how to help them reduce their anxieties.
Let’s examine what’s happening in our brains to support our emotional regulation. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers in the brain. They influence brain cells in 3 ways: they can be excitatory, inhibitory or modulatory.
What we see in children with anxiety is that they have too much production of excitatory neurotransmitters, or they can’t break them down fast, so they linger causing a bit of havoc. We need to encourage the production of more balancing and calming neurotransmitters. And the good news is you can do this through diet, nutritional supplementation and herbal medicine.
As naturopaths who practice a functional medicine model, we investigate the underlying causes of why the body is not functioning correctly and work to balance health so it is functioning optimally.
Finding out WHY your child acts the way they do is a crucial part to supporting them long term.
One of the main area’s anxiety occurs is due to neuroinflammation. This is a fancy way of saying the brain is inflamed. Lots of things can impact brain health, exposure to heavy metals; food intolerances are just two areas we see here at CK Health.
There are many areas to investigate when it comes to children and anxiety.
PANS and PANDAS are strongly linked with anxiety and have a lot of “why’s” to explore. Looking at environmental exposures, mould, heavy metals, chemicals and microbial exposures like viruses and bacteria’s can point you in the direction of what treatment may be the most effective for your child.
Pyrroles are another area to investigate, particularly if your child experiences sensory sensitivities and is very quick to anger. It is a urine test and can really help with prescribing nutritional therapy that will make a real change.
We know that there is a strong connection between our microbiome in the gut and our brain function.
This is called the gut brain axis.
Gut microbiome communicate with the CNS via the vagus nerve influencing brain function. We can map the microbiome and discover if there are families of bacteria that shouldn’t be there, that can be influencing our children’s behavior!
We can improve all aspects of our children’s health, including mental health, by improving the health of our gut and microbiome.
Genes play a role in the predispositions of our kids. If there’s a strong family history of mental health issues like depression and anxiety, there is a stronger risk that your child may develop it as well. Environmental and diet strongly influence our genes expression, so it’s not destiny with the right support.
We can use genetic testing to see what our risk factors with a saliva test! It is true preventative medicine!
In this day and age, we can’t talk about anxiety risks without talking about technology, screen time and media exposure. Exposure to the news, current events and big concepts increase acute fears in kids. That leads to sleep issues, and cycles round to increase anxiety. The easiest solution is to limit and monitor what your child is exposed to on TV and devices, and drip feed them age appropriate relevant information about current events.
The time that they are on screens is linked to a higher risk of anxiety. The longer per day, the higher the risk, with one study showing dementia like destruction of brain cells with use of over 6 hours per day.
Blue light exposure impacts neurotransmitter production and interferes with melatonin needed to get a good night sleep.
Lack of sleep equals grumpy, overtired kid. Chronic lack of sleep, leads to increased risk of anxiety, poorer diet choices and less emotion regulation.
We can support our kids having a great night sleep by enforcing the rule NO devices after dinnertime and that they do not enter the bedroom! Herbal medicine and nutrition can improve the quality of sleep as well.
Another thing to consider is overweight children have a higher risk of anxiety. Weight is a sensitive issue, however, when one parent is obese the child has a 50% risk of being obese, and if both parents are, this increases to 80%. Teens that diet are more likely to have anxiety or depression.
Let’s chat about worms and parasites. Most parents at some stage would’ve got the good old chocolate worming tablets from the chemist and wormed a squirmy kid! The interesting thing about worms and parasites is that they don’t want to die. They hide a portion of the population inside a bunker called a biofilm, and when we use worming tablets, most of the population will die, but some go on to repopulate. They manipulate their hosts’ hormones and neurotransmitters to provide a better living environment for them, and this can really impact mental health and anxiety! Some parasites eat our vitamins and minerals before we can absorb them, limiting the nutritional support we need to build our happy hormones.
Finally, I’d like to talk about nutritional deficiencies. Kids have huge periods of rapid growth and development and need a really nutrient dense diet to support not only their bone and muscle growth, but also their brain growth! There are key nutrients involved in neurotransmitter production and if kids aren’t eating enough of the right type of foods, and filling up on empty-nutrient foods, then they aren’t going to able to support their brain function and mental health symptoms like anxiety might flare up.
Food feeds our microbiome. It’s the basic structure of every cell in our body including our brain, our neurotransmitters and hormones. Signs of nutrient deficiencies are really similar to anxiety disorders. Things like sensory sensitivity, irritability, sleep issues; twitchy muscles, rapid breathing and headaches can all be signs of lack of nutrients!
So, what can you do if you think your child has Children’s Anxiety??
The number one thing you can do straight away is ditch the “treaty” style foods that are high in sugar, highly processed, contain fake ingredients and aren’t nutrient dense and replace them with a wide variety of colorful plant foods. Eat a rainbow every day.
By ensuring your child is meeting their nutritional needs it’s going to help reduce risks of anxiety from deficiencies.
Herbal medicine is amazing to help anxiety. We have so many beautiful herbs to choose from that can really target your child’s needs. Did you know we have over 100 different herbs in our dispensary at our clinic so we can customize herbal medicine specific to your health requirements??
The great thing about seeing our naturopaths for support, is that you get targeted treatment to optimize your child’s health and to give you insight into why they are the way they are!!
Testing is a good way to find out if you are on the right path of treatment and takes out guesswork. We can investigate lots of different avenues: hair test for heavy metals, saliva test for DNA, Stool test for microbiome mapping and parasites, urine test for neurotransmitter function, and pyrroluria, and blood tests for nutritional deficiencies, liver function and much much more!
We work with you to educate and empower you, while you make the changes needed in your family to get a better quality of life, not just for your child, but also for the whole family. We teach you to how to rebalance the body, mind and spirit.
We collaborate with other practitioners like child psychology, occupational therapy, and feeding therapy and exercise physiology. Naturopath is a holistic treatment, so we will be recommending and referring to other treatments and practitioners to support every aspect of your child’s needs and improve their anxiety.
For example, salt room therapy improves breathing and is a really relaxing experience, team sports have been shown to build resilience, and time under trees reduces stress. So, we may recommend a session in our salt room, to join the soccer team and to go on a bushwalk as part of our complete treatment plan!
As mothers and passionate naturopaths, we understand how difficult raising children is, especially those with anxiety. We are here to support you with evidence based natural medicine to help your children flourish and thrive.