Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with the stress that many adults and children experience in our modern world. Persistent worry, feeling overwhelmed, or being nervous about specific events, or even life in general, can contribute to the experience of anxiety. If this heightened emotional state escalates to where it interferes with a person's ability to participate in their normal daily routine, they may be identified as having an anxiety disorder. An anxiety disorder can have causes resulting from an imbalance in brain chemistry and can even develop in the absence of chronic stressors. Holistic approaches can be effective in reducing and relieving the pressure-cooker of anxiety symptoms experienced by both adults and children.
Anxiety in Adults and Children Looks Different
There are a few ways in which anxiety can look different in an adult and in a child. Cognitive reasoning, analysis, moral thinking and other brain functions are still developing in children and teenagers so they do not process their experiences the same way as adults. As a result, a child or teen generally has more difficulty identifying and expressing distressful emotional states in themselves and others.
In children, anxiety symptoms may look like:
Crying spells, low mood, sadness
Hyperactivity or significant reduction in activity
Frequent nightmares, disturbed sleep
Sleepiness or falling asleep in school
In adults, one of the biggest differences in how anxiety presents is the adult's ability to articulate anxiety as a state of being. They are also more likely to experience:
Muscle tension and tension headaches
Changes in appetite
Chest pain, palpitations, high blood pressure
There are many types of anxiety disorders which can develop at any age. It's more common for adults to be diagnosed with phobias, panic disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder while children and teens are more commonly diagnosed with separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, and social anxiety.
What can cause anxiety?
Like many physical and mental health conditions, anxiety can result from the interplay of:
Underlying physiological factors (thyroid condition, neurochemical imbalance, nutrient deficiency, or toxins in the blood)
Events/experiences in one's environment (trauma)
Quality of family and other social support (friendships, especially for young people)
Gastrointestinal (Gut, GI) health: There is a scientifically proven link between gut and brain health. Inflammation in the bowels, digestive organs, and an imbalance in gut flora alters the many biochemical processes that act upon blood sugar level and mood.
Contributing factors that can worsen anxiety include quality and quantity of sleep, quality of one's diet, timing and quantity of meals, caffeine, nicotine, and sugary food/drink consumption, amount of screen time, social isolation, lack of exercise, and abuse of alcohol and drugs (including prescription medication).
Managing Anxiety Naturally
When a person visits a holistic health practitioner with concerns about anxiety, they will have a discussion about symptoms and life experiences. The practitioner may order blood work to identify the presence of health conditions that can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Based on these results, the healthcare provider may suggest natural approaches to manage anxiety, such as:
Botanical, nutritional and homeopathic supplements
Modifying diet to obtain a balance of nutrients and to sustain blood sugar levels
Exercising (walking, swimming, weight training)
Adjusting the sleep routine
Journaling to explore and process underlying social-emotional issues
Mindfulness meditation practice (breathwork, prayer)
Working with a professional licensed counselor
Spending time in nature
Massage, acupuncture, yoga, and other mindful relaxation strategies
If anxiety appears to be robbing you or someone you care about of the joy of life that can be found even in uncertain and stressful times, support them in seeking help. Gently suggest going for a medical evaluation to see how things can be improved. For a child, ask them to draw a picture (or search online for a "Feelings Wheel") as a way to express what they are experiencing. Allow them space to process their experience without judgment. Don't try to fix things, just listen. With a few changes, lots of love and support, anxiety really can be effectively managed naturally.
Pyramid Healthcare: "Anxiety: How is it different in adults vs. children?" Accessed 12 Dec 2021. https://www.pyramidhealthcarepa.com/anxiety-kids-adults/
Yale Medicine. "Childhood Stress and Anxiety Fact Sheet." Accessed 13 Dec 2021. https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/childhood-stress-and-anxiety
KidsHealth.org. "Anxiety." Accessed 13 Dec 2021. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/anxiety-disorders.html
Pizzorno, J. E. Textbook of Natural Medicine. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier: 2013
PsychCentral.com: "How to Calm Anxiety Naturally." Accessed 12 Dec 2021. https://psychcentral.com/anxiety/natural-options-for-anxiety-relief#natural-options-for-anxiety