Opinion

SPOTLIGHT ON NATUROPATHIC MEDICINE: Addressing anxiety in children

By Dr. Andrea Hornyak, Spotlight on Naturopathic Medicine

Normal amounts of anxiety allows us to be better problem solvers, to be more creative, and to grow as individuals as we face the challenges in our lives. (Fotolia)

Normal amounts of anxiety allows us to be better problem solvers, to be more creative, and to grow as individuals as we face the challenges in our lives. (Fotolia)

Anxiety is a growing concern that I treat in school-aged children and it can present as a variety of different symptoms. Common signs that your child could be suffering from anxiety include depression, frequent headaches, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, decreased appetite, eczema, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares, chronic fatigue, lack of focus at school and avoiding friends.

To a degree, some anxiety is normal and is a common reaction to change or uncertainties in the future. Pay attention to how often your child feels anxious and how severe the symptoms are. The tools we give our children to help cope with stress are vital, and if they are reminded that to worry is natural, they will often feel less anxious. Share your experiences and help them with ideas on how to tackle stress in a healthy way.

Ideas to help manage anxiety include:

- Take one deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.

- Count to 10 slowly and keep doing relaxing breaths.

- Accept that you are worried and remind yourself that it’s ok.

- Focus on something that makes you happy, like your pet or favourite sport.

- Think positive and believe in yourself. You can get through anything.

- Remember that “this too shall pass” and you will feel better soon.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what causes a child to suffer from anxiety, as there are so many contributing factors. In addition, the internet and social media can magnify stress and make worrying worse.

Anxiety can develop in a child due to trauma (car accident, death, neglect, abuse), excessive criticism, or an alcoholic family member. I have treated many families where anxiety is a common health concern through generations. Therefore when I treat a child with anxiety, I often help the family to communicate better and support one another.

Naturopathic medicine addresses both the physical and emotional components of anxiety. There are several effective and natural options available through a naturopathic doctor, which is advantageous as we are able to personalize treatment targeted to each patient’s specific needs. In my practice, treatments may consist of a combination of homeopathic medicine, botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, psychology and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

The goals of naturopathic medicine are to help calm the child both mentally and physically when they perceive a stressful situation that normally would cause them anxiety. Once they have the tools to take a different approach to interpreting situations, the outcome will be more positive.

I help children by empowering them to feel better about themselves, teaching relaxation strategies and proper nutrition. This will improve their energy, balance hormones, elevate mood and help their brain to function better. I often use laboratory testing to determine vitamin/mineral deficiencies as well as to rule out other causes of anxiety such as drug and alcohol abuse, diabetes or a thyroid condition.

Do activities with your child to help alleviate their stress and communicate their emotions such as:

- Discussing dreams during breakfast

- Daily time together to laugh and play

- Drawing pictures of how their day went at school

- Exercise like riding a bike, walking, or swimming

- Breathing exercises before bed to help relax the body

- Reading together before bed

Parents are the best role models for their children, as they will learn how to cope with stress and anxiety by observation. Children listen to what you say, so pay attention if you find yourself saying “I’m so anxious” or “I worry about you”, etc. If you are also suffering from anxiety, take care of yourself and get help so you can handle stress in a positive manner. Show your child a healthy way to manage anxiety so they too can develop this critical skill.

Dr. Hornyak has been in private practice as a licensed Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine since 2006. For more information, phone the Norwich Medical Centre at 519-863-2338 or visit www.vitalforcenaturopathic.ca.