Childhood anxiety is, according to reports, a growing phenomenon. Some blame the internet for this, some blame urbanisation, some blame modern parenting, some blame exams…the list of potential reasons for the phenomenon goes on and on. Whatever the cause, sadly, it’s now more likely than ever before that a child will suffer from an anxiety disorder (an umbrella term covering a wide range of mental health problems, including depression, body dysmorphic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, and more).
If you are or you know a young person suffering from an anxiety disorder, therapists, counselling sessions, and visits to the GP can help. Here are some additional forms of therapy, which can be done ‘at home’, and which some anxiety sufferers have found helpful when it comes to managing their mental health issues.
Creative therapies such as writing and painting have a long and effective history of helping people express their issues, expunge negative emotions, and make sense of what is happening to them. Journalling in particular is recommended by many mental health professionals for a wide range of conditions. One way in which journalling is useful is that it helps doctors, therapists, and even the patient themselves to identify patterns and ‘triggers’ within the disorder as they read back through the journal. These are things which may otherwise be hard to establish, particularly where a young child is concerned.
More importantly perhaps, journaling can help the patient to express their anxieties (and therefore, perhaps, understand and diminish them) in a manner which is not always possible through talking or other kinds of therapy. Writing and other creative acts tap into the subconscious, and let things emerge which would not be obvious to the patient, and would not (particularly for more introverted children) emerge during the more socially pressured environment of a talking-cure situation. Journaling does not have to be a long task (although it can be if the patient prefers it that way!). Simply writing down a few adjectives about how the sufferer feels whenever they’re struck with anxiety may be enough!
According to several scientists, a lot of our modern childhood problems stem from a lack of free time in the kind of natural environments we evolved to deal with. Whether or not this is true, it’s becoming increasingly evident that spending time in ‘green spaces’ can have enormously beneficial effects on mental health. Studies have found that ‘green’ playtime significantly reduces the symptoms of ADHD, for example.
Furthermore, those who live or work close to ‘green’ spaces are at far lower risk of developing anxiety disorders than those who spend their days in built up environments. Something as simple as going for a walk in the woods can lower blood pressure, ‘switch off’ the stress reaction, promote deep, healthy sleep, and reduce the symptoms of anxiety disorders for significant lengths of time. Go for playtime in the woods and the fields, visit a local nature reserve, throw a frisbee in the park, sit under a tree…all of these things seem simple, but they really can help!
For in-the-moment issues, stress toys can help. Whether it’s a stress ball that the sufferer squeezes during an anxiety attack, or a weighted blanket to calm immediate symptoms of anxiety, stress-busting toys and tools can help with the acute symptoms of anxiety when they flare up. Some can be made at home – an activity which in itself helps to engage children in the battle against their own problems. Glitter jars are a fun and easy (if messy!) device to make.
The preparation is simple: Mix 20% glitter glue with 80% water in a jar. Pour in as much extra glitter as you feel is necessary. Screw on the lid. Shake until the glue and the water are thoroughly mixed. Decorate as desired. Done! To use the glitter jar, turn it upside down when the child is getting upset. Ask the child to concentrate on the glitter as it settles in the jar, perhaps timing their breathing in accordance with the slow movements of the glitter. These glitter jars – sometimes called ‘calm down jars’ – really are surprisingly relaxing for children and adults alike!
Written by Gemma Hardcastle