A ‘toolbox’ for anxiety in children

A ‘toolbox’ for anxiety in children

Does your child suffer with anxiety?  It is very common and can show itself in many ways such as worrying, difficulty sleeping, digestive issues, being moody and snappy, withdrawal, depression, obsessive behaviour, panic attacks and so on.

This time of year can be especially challenging, with the new academic year, which brings lots of change and new experiences for school aged children.  But what can you do to help your child?  Some children are more prone to suffer with anxiety than others, but part of our job as parents and carers is to act, when they show that they are struggling and not just ignore it and hope that it’ll go away by itself!

Craniosacral Therapy

I see a lot of children in my practice who are suffering with anxiety, and Craniosacral Therapy is usually fundamental to changing things for them.

Our nervous system should spend most of its time in the ‘rest and digest’ mode and rarely need to be in ‘fight, flight or freeze’.  However, after experiencing stress, our bodies can get stuck in the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode and finding the ‘off switch’ can become almost impossible.  This results in a variety of symptoms: anxiety, stress, being hypervigilant, being aggressive, very tired, depressed, and so on.  And yes, this can be the case in very young children too, even babies.  The priority here is for the therapist to show the child’s nervous system how to down-regulate from the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode to ‘rest and digest’ and this is what I do.  This practice alone usually has a profound impact on the child’s anxiety or stress levels.

The next stage of their treatment is for me to identify any specific tensions or restrictions that are being held in the child’s physiology, and then help those tensions to release in a very gentle way, and at a pace that is right for the child.

It is worth saying at this point that nearly all the children that I see, REALLY enjoy their treatments and will ask to come back, even once they are all better!  It is not unusual for them to be asleep by the end!  Making your child feel safe, and secure in the knowledge that I am there to help and support them is a top priority for me.  And if you don’t feel that your child could lay down during the treatment or keep still, don’t worry, we can work around this and treatments can still be really effective.

So there is a brief explanation of why Craniosacral Therapy and how it works.  Now onto the ‘toolbox’ part…..

When parents bring their children to see me, they often ask me is there’s anything they can be doing at home, with their child, to support them whilst they receive treatments and I tell them about the toolbox, which I believe everyone needs.  A toolbox of resources, or in other words, things or skills that we know help to keep us well and happy, help us to cope and keep us strong.  Things we should use on an ongoing basis, but could turn to particularly when the going gets tough.

So, I’ve put together some suggestions of some things to go in the toolbox. These are things which either I have used myself with my own children, or that have been recommended to me by other health professionals or other parents.  If you have any of your own ideas, please let me know because I am always keen to extend the list!

Books

  • The Wishing Star by Relax Kids.  Relax Kids do various books along similar lines for children.  This one is full of creative visualisations, meditations and relaxations. Children can imagine they are lying in soft grass, sitting in a peaceful cave, watching a beautiful sunset and flying like a bird.  From 5 years old.
  • What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide To Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner and Bonnie Matthews. A favourite of mine – this book is aimed at primary aged children, and talks about how ‘feeding worries’ helps them to grow and introduces the idea of a ‘worry box’.
  • Sitting Still Like A Frog: Mindfulness Exercises For Kids (And Their Parents) by Eline Snel. A book and CD, which teaches us how to be in the moment, rather than the past or the future, a key skill in mental health.
  • Affirmation Cards For Kids by Catherine Keller. Often children find it hard to say good things about themselves, but with daily practice, it becomes easier and easier and soon it is a new way of thinking!
  • The Law Of Attraction For Kids by Jennifer Quaggin. Similar to the above, but aimed at slightly older children.

Mindfulness / relaxation / sleep apps 

  • There is vast array of these apps available. A lot are free.  My advice would be to do a search and try several until you find one that your child likes.  Some people prefer talking, some music, some white noise.  They can be used for mindfulness practice and / or at bedtimes to help quieten the mind.

Breathing exercises

  • Abdominal breathing is the most efficient and relaxed way of getting enough air into out lungs. However, we sometimes get into the habit of chest breathing which increases our stress levels.  There is good advice online on abdominal breathing and how to train yourself (or your child) to do it habitually, eg. http://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/therapies/abdominal-breathing.pdf.

Help from the school / GP

  • Do the school know about the situation?
  • Have you told your child’s GP?

Schools are often able to offer additional support where appropriate.  Both schools and GPs are able to refer your child to a mental health specialist for assessment.

In summary

Life can be stressful.  We all need healthy coping strategies / support in place.  Many children are under a lot of pressure from school and so on.  Start filling up your child’s toolbox.  By taking action, you are showing your child that it is good to be open about their feelings and to tell you when they need help or are worried; that they are not alone and that things can and will get better.

And please note also, that often when we take a look at our children’s stress levels, we realise that our own stress levels need addressing also.  It’s really hard for children to be calm when their parents are not, so its important to address your own stress levels too.  How about filling your own toolbox?

Please do feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss anything in this blog or if you have concerns about the impact that stress or anxiety is having in your child’s life or your own.  I’ll be happy to have a chat with you.

Special thanks go to Julie Clark of Julie Clark Nutrition for suggesting that I write this blog in the first place!

Overcoming stress and achieving a sense of calm

Overcoming stress and achieving a sense of calm

Water drop in freeze motion, macro shot.

Most of the people who come and see me are suffering from stress.  But is stress just a part of every day life and something we have to learn to live with?  What if that stress is having an affect on our overall health and sense of wellbeing?  At what point should we get help?

Usually, people don’t realise how stressed they are when they come for their first treatment.  Their bodies may be rigid with tension; they may have lived this way for many years, perhaps even their whole life; they may not even know they are holding stress in their body.  Our bodies can get “stuck” in a permanent state of “fight, flight or freeze“.  One of the goals in Craniosacral Therapy is to help the patient to achieve a real sense of calm and stillness.  This may not happen immediately, but when it does, it is like opening a gateway to another world.  A world of just “being” – a very unusual concept in this fast paced life.  Really, the body and mind are being “taught” how to relax.  In my experience, and with time, the patient finds this calm place easier and easier to access, and will nearly always report that they are: coping better with life, feeling more balanced, less depressed and anxious, panic attacks have stoped, they sleep better etc.  In actual fact, their nervous system has been down regulated from that “fight, flight of freeze” state, to a “rest and digest” state.  This is just a small part of what Craniosacral Therapy does, but hugely powerful and I urge you to try it and see the difference it makes to your life.