Dealing with anxiety

Published On: December 7, 2019 12:54 PM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

If your child feels constantly agitated, tense and restless and is unable to stop worrying and relax, s/he may be experiencing anxiety disorder

I know you all are wondering, ‘what is the connection between anxiety disorder, youth, and meditation?’ There is a relation between all three of the above. The other day I had an opportunity to interact with some National college students regarding their struggle with anxiety. It was an opportunity for me to understand their struggles and the causes of their anxiety. I had a short presentation prepared but after a little interaction with the students, I felt the futility of my presentation. They wanted more interaction and not sit through a presentation. They already had some idea of anxiety but lacked skills to combat them. It turned out my session was more on managing anxiety. At the end of my session, I introduced them to a short session on meditation, which they appreciated. 

I can almost feel parents thinking, ‘what’s so special about anxiety and why meditation? We all feel anxiety is not something we talk about. It’s something we deal with ourselves.’ Parents, sorry to disappoint you, but you need to understand that anxiety is a small spark with a potential of becoming a full-blown fire of anxiety disorder leading to depression. It is especially important for young people to handle it appropriately. So, when it comes to managing anxiety, meditation comes into play. According to Buddha, “The goal of meditation isn’t to control your thoughts, it’s to stop letting them control you.” I know you did not consider it that way. That’s ok. That is exactly the reason I have chosen to write about. 

Understanding anxiety
Anxiety as we know is a natural human reaction involving mind and body. It is an important basic survival function: An alarm system that is activated when you perceive danger or threat. Yes, a little bit of anxiety improves performance and it can be beneficial but when it becomes abnormally severe and starts spreading widely and is persistent and irrational, inappropriate and handicapping it is abnormal and is termed as anxiety disorder. This is a cause for concern for the parents.  I can almost feel the question lingering in my readers’ mind: What exactly is it?

Anxiety disorders are a group of mental disorders: a feeling of fear and worry caused by anticipation of an ill-defined threat or danger that is not realistically based. You must be wondering as to what causes it. The exact cause of anxiety is not known. However, there are several contributing factors including traumatic life events in most patients, an outcome of medicine, medical conditions, brain biochemistry, stress, or even genetics. Some theories suggest that often young people become anxious just by being in the company of an over-anxious adult on a day to day basis. Often it is also an outcome of our overestimation of danger or harm in a given situation along with underestimation of our ability to cope with the perceived stress. 

Anxiety disorders can be quite serious for young people, because they are still developing. If not treated in time, anxiety disorders can have long-term consequences for mental health among teenagers. 

Watch out these signs
Here are some signs that parents can look out for in their young adults. Your child may exhibit emotional and behavioral symptoms, like feeling constantly agitated, tense, restless, unable to stop or control worrying and unable to relax. Along with this s/he might be very sensitive to criticism and extremely self-conscious or uncomfortable in social situations. You might even notice your child always expecting the worst to happen or seem to worry too much in a way that’s out of proportion to problems or situations. You notice your child constantly avoiding difficult or new situations or having a hard time facing new challenges. Sometimes s/he might become withdrawn, or isolated by avoiding social activities. Your child feels that s/he must do a particular action, like touch things in a particular order. S/he has obsessive thoughts or images that s/he says can’t get out of his/her head.

Sometimes your child might even exhibit physical symptoms. S/he might complain of having tense or sore muscles, and also visit the toilet more times than usual. S/he might even complain of having a racing heart, feel short of breath, chest pain, sweating, headaches, dry mouth, stomach aches, nausea, vomiting or even diarrhea. Sometimes s/he might have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or waking early. Young adults might even exhibit thinking symptoms. Teenagers might have trouble concentrating on their studies. They might seem forgetful or distracted, have trouble starting or completing schoolwork or might put off work for later.

Although these are the signs of anxiety disorder, many teenagers are good at hiding their feelings and thoughts. They might even mask their feelings with aggressive behavior or withdrawal. Teenagers might show many different types of anxiety disorders and not all youngsters will have the same type of symptoms. Hence parents and teachers will have to be more watchful. You will see that often people suffering from anxiety disorder will avoid situations that cause anxiety and treatment. 

As parents, you need to understand that professional help is very important for a person with an anxiety disorder for his/her healthy development. You need to understand that your child is not alone and that most anxiety disorders respond well to treatment if treated early. Such treatment usually involves psychological counseling, focusing on ways to cope with anxiety: to manage anxiety rather than avoiding it. Usually, teenagers don’t need medication but sometimes under certain circumstances, doctors might prescribe some form of medication.  

Parents can help
If your child is being treated for anxiety, there are some general strategies you can try at home. Of course, you will have to discuss these strategies with the professional treating your child. First of all, you need to acknowledge your child’s fear and not dismiss or ignore it. Put an effort to build confidence in your child that you are there to support and care. Gently encourage your child but not force him/her to do things that s/he is anxious about. At the same time, make sure you don’t force him/her to face situations s/he does not want to face.  One thing a parent really needs to care about is to step in to help only after your child actually becomes anxious. Oh, and don’t forget to praise him/her when s/he does something s/he feels anxious about. Another thing to be careful about is not labeling your child as ‘anxious’ or ‘shy’.  Instead, try and praise him/her for his/her efforts.  After all, your child is bravely trying to overcome his/her difficulties. You will also have to be a good role model on your part regarding managing your own stress and anxiety. At this point, it is natural for parents to wonder if there is a way to prevent it.

Unfortunately, anxiety disorders cannot be prevented. However, there are few things you can do to control or decrease its symptoms. Often stopping or reducing consumption of products containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola and chocolate help. Next is getting medical advice from your doctor regarding over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies. Sometimes these remedies contain chemicals that can increase anxiety symptoms. Exercising daily and eating a healthy, balanced diet often help. It is always a good idea to seek counseling and support after a traumatic or disturbing experience.  

Parents need to understand that anxiety disorder is a serious mental health problem. If you are worried about your teenager, it is a good idea to seek professional help. Most of them respond well to treatment if they are treated early on. First of all, it is important to understand that anxiety is not your child’s fault. Hence, understanding the root cause of anxiety is essential for properly managing anxiety disorder.  While medications aim to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, there are other factors that also should be taken into consideration. 

These factors include lifestyle, diet, therapy and strong family support and interaction with children and older members of the family for managing stress, anxiety, and emotions as your teen navigates through adolescence. Researchers believe that brain changes in adolescence increase a teen’s vulnerability to anxiety and depression. Research has shown that meditation and mindfulness help people manage anxiety and depression. I know you are confused as to how meditation helps. It helps by reducing stress. Meditation seems to be an effective intervention in the treatment of physiologic, psychosocial, and behavioral conditions among youth.  

Those who practice “mindfulness” are better able to reduce their own levels of stress. This is especially helpful to those working parents who are under stress. Long term meditation practitioners actually altered the structure and function of their brains. While you are at it, teach your teenager to stop the habit of negative thinking. Negative thinking is a habit that must be broken when dealing with anxiety management. 

Teach your teenager, that negative self-talk, the inner critic, often is a habit, which we are not even aware of. By watching your thoughts, you can start learning about how your mind operates.  You also learn the effect your thoughts have on your feelings and ultimately how that impacts your behavior. When you tell yourself that you have no energy, or that you are fed up, stressed and frustrated then that is what you will actually feel. This is the power of a self-conscious mind. 

Finally, explain to your teenager that becoming more positive is not about changing who they are, rather it is all about accessing a part of you that is already there. It is about tapping into your higher self, best self: the part of you that is free and lives moment to moment. While you are at it also encourage your child to practice self-care which is essential to implement when dealing with anxiety. 

You can at least give it a try.

Usha Pokharel
Educationist and author of several children’s books

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