Help for Child & Teen Anxiety

A Blog Post by Judy Thompson, Director Mind-Body Services:

In any given week, but especially as school begins in the Fall, our practice receives calls from parents about their child’s behavior, attitude, and anxiety. The academic pressures combined with peer pressure are categorically diverse, but these pressures, combined with fears and worries about school violence, add a new level of pressure.

The developing brains of children and teens are unaccustomed to recognizing these pressures, symptomatically, the child may begin to outwardly notice the physical symptoms and pressure they feel in their body, but the worry and the fear that may be funneling through their mind as daily thoughts can begin to take on a familiarity and disconnect them from recognizing and asking for help.

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On a basic brain-science level, our brain has a thinking side and a feeling/emotional side. The thinking side is the cortex, and it operates logically, is able to reason, and recalls conscious memories. The feeling/emotional side has many components, but the structure that is in control of our anxiety response is the amygdala. This is the evolutionary part of our brain that is meant to keep us alive. Many of the physical symptoms that the body exhibits in a state of anxiety are the same as when a person is in a state of fight/flight.  The amygdala can hijack systems in the body: the sympathetic nervous system, endocrine, and the actual cortex.  The body can begin to respond in a cyclic fashion of anxiety whenever there is a feeling of discomfort, fear or worry.

The anxiety responses can be interrupted!  The brain, both the cortex and the amygdala, can be re-trained to respond to these very same triggers in a learned and mindful way. Our practice offers a tripartite approach in client-centered fashion. Traditional talk therapies, such as Cognitive Based Therapy, work with the thinking brain and offer the client a logical, collaborative awareness of mindful intervention when triggers arise.

Through an integrative approach, we work with the client using techniques such as somatic inquiry, yoga, and meditation, to more directly interact with the feeling/emotional side of the brain. This is an important approach, because many triggers, reside in the part of the brain where words do not exist. These integrative therapies allow these triggers and feelings to shift, rather than remain bound and stagnant.

The third approach available to clients and children is that of psychiatric medication. For some clients, the body and mind may need a temporary intervention as it adapts to, learns, and settles into the cognitive and integrative approaches.

It’s important for parents and children to understand that there is no one approach to the symptoms of anxiety. What is important for a parent, is to remain calm and be flexible and understanding to your child’s needs and feelings, and to know there is help and support available for your child and you!

**Article printed in The Independent newspaper, October edition in Monmouth, County, NJ

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