Treatment for Anxiety: Options Without Medication

Anxiety is oftentimes crippling and causes excessive worries that can lead to physical effects like sweaty hands, a racing heart, sleeping problems, and many other unwanted symptoms.

Clients who are dealing with anxiety disorders often make an initial appointment to inquire about non-pharmaceutical methods that can be tried first. It is always beneficial to learn methods of managing anxiety as well as uncover underlying problems and triggers.

Treatment for Anxiety Without Medication

Some methods of treating recurring anxiety without medication include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Yoga
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Self-care

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a widely used and very effective way of treating anxiety before trying medication. Clients go through this type of therapy in the therapeutic setting of a counselor’s office.

Anxiety tends to make someone worry excessively that the likelihood of something bad is destined to happen, and CBT works to re-frame these thoughts and help clients understand the patterns of their behavior. Through CBT, patients learn ways to identify detrimental thinking patterns and transform them into rational thoughts that will help improve the regulation of emotions.

Progressive muscle relaxation is also part of CBT. Clients can learn breathing techniques to use that will relax them and assist them in dealing with the unwanted physiological consequences of anxiety, which include psychosomatic symptoms and muscle tightness.

Yoga

Some therapists have decided to incorporate yoga into treatment plans for clients. Since they are Christian counselors, their understanding of yoga refers to relaxation principles and mindfulness instead of non-Christian practices or Buddhism.

The popularity of yoga continues to increase, and this is partially because it can work to modulate one’s stress response. Yoga can improve mental clarity by using breathing techniques and different poses.

Acupuncture

One of the most common alternative forms of medicine is acupuncture. In this form of Chinese medicine, sterile, long needles are placed in different areas of the body close to nerves. This activates a body’s chemicals that work to reduce or eliminate pain. Despite the belief that acupuncture is a pseudoscience that has mixed results regarding efficacy, many people prefer to test it out before opting to take medication, and many people experience positive results.

Massage

Massages are great for reducing tension and lessening anxiety, but they cannot solve any underlying issues that are causing a client’s anxiety. Typically, people complain about muscle tightness and tension when they are experiencing anxiety, and a massage has the ability to provide a little bit of physical relief for at least a brief period of time.

Self-Care

Managing anxiety without the use of medications is impossible without spiritual, physical, and mental self-care.

Spiritual self-care includes making time for God through Bible study, Church, or prayer; physical self-care includes any form of exercise; and mental self-care includes things like journaling or breathing exercises.

The goal of self-care is to use techniques that make you aware of your feelings and responses to stimuli or unwanted stressors as well as cause you to simply be “present.”

In some cases, medication might still be necessary if someone’s symptoms of anxiety are severe, but using things like prayer, breathing exercises, self-care, or any of the other aforementioned options would be a great addition to medication. The first place to start is to find a professional therapist who can help you find the best treatment plan for your specific needs.

Photos:
“Hiding”, Courtesy of Claudia Soraya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stressed Out”, Courtesy of Ayo Ogunseinde, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Yoga”, Courtesy of Matthew Kane, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coffee Time”, Courtesy of Nathan Dumlao, Unsplash.com; CC0 License

Commonly Missed Anxiety Symptoms in Women

Anxiety impacts people of all genders and ages but usually manifests differently in people of different ages and genders. Anxiety occurs twice as often in women as in men and are they found to experience Generalized Anxiety, Panic Disorder, Phobias, PTSD and Social Anxiety. Symptoms of anxiety in midlife differ than symptoms of anxiety during childhood. Today we will explore what anxiety looks like for women ages 30 to 50.

Women approaching midlife traditionally experience a higher propensity toward anxiety disorders.

Usually, these anxiety disorders fall within generalized anxiety, PTSD, and panic attacks. Hormonal changes that happen during motherhood, pre-menopause, and menopause are all reasons for these anxiety disorders.

Women in their thirties to fifties are normally facing the peak of life’s highest demands as they try to meet expectations imposed on women from society. Women embrace the idea that they can “have everything,” including chasing career growth, raising children, managing the home, and maintaining active social lives.

Women measure their lives to other mothers and businesswomen around them and strive to keep up appearances. During these years, suppressed memories of former sexual assault or abuse can often crop up and lead to latent anxiety or PTSD symptoms.

What follows is a breakdown of the symptoms of Generalized Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and PTSD.  You may not realize that some of the symptoms that are outlined below accompany these diagnoses.

Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder manifests itself as excessive anxiety and intense worry about a whole host of things. This worry comes quickly and can be a real challenge to control.

This anxiety is associated with not less than three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms, including fatigue, restlessness, muscle tension, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and sleep disturbances. If you have experienced three or more of these symptoms on a regular basis for 6+ months, you most likely are living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

Commonly Missed Anxiety Symptoms in Women:

Difficulty Concentrating

Many women struggle to simply focus on what’s happening around them. They begin a task and then shortly after may realize, “Woah. My mind has totally been wandering.” This lack of focus can become a detriment to productivity.

Sometimes it’s worrying thoughts that are distracting the person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but other times that person is unable to focus long enough to complete the task at hand. Either of these can still point to you experiencing anxiety.

Difficulty Sleeping

Tossing and turning is a symptom of anxiety in women ages 30 to 50. Mothers are used to losing solid, uninterrupted sleep when the baby comes, but there could be other signs to look out for. If your day is full of anxiety then your sleep might be interrupted by nightmares or other internal thoughts.

You get in bed to catch some shut-eye and the thoughts that plague you make it nearly impossible to fall asleep. You might eventually be able to drop off to sleep, but sleep is still elusive. If this is part of your nightly routine, you might be suffering from anxiety.

Symptoms of Panic Disorder

A panic attack happens suddenly and escalates to its peak within minutes. It’s diagnosed when four of the below symptoms are met and often can be overlooked because the symptoms are similar to heart disorders, breathing issues and other health problems.

Recurring panic attacks include four or more of the following symptoms. Pounding heart or accelerated heart rate, palpitations, trembling or shaking, sweating, feelings of choking, feeling short of breath or like you are smothering, discomfort or pain in the chest, feeling dizzy, nausea or abdominal distress, unsteadiness, light-headedness, or faintness, paresthesia (numbness or tingling sensations), chills or heat sensations, fear of losing control or “going crazy,” derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself), fear of dying.

At least one panic attack is followed by one month of persistent worry of having more panic attacks. Also, there’s a presence of persistent behavioral changes that occur to avoid an attack, including avoiding similar situations that caused the attack in the first place.

Commonly Missed Symptoms:

Accurately Identifying Physical Symptoms as Anxiety

A panic attack itself is extremely noticeable. The physical signs can be frightening for someone who has never suffered through an anxiety attack. However, interpreting the symptoms accurately is harder to do.

Perhaps you have been experiencing tightness of the chest for days and wonder if your heart is healthy. This is one of the ways symptoms aren’t viewed accurately because anxiety may not have been on your radar as the problem.

The Fear of Recurring Panic Attacks

Once you’ve gone through a panic attack, a fear can grip you about when the next anxiety attack will occur. The worry about physically experiencing another panic attack is all-consuming, yet a normal part of the anxiety experience of a panic disorder.

Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

PTSD symptoms occur after being exposed to death, injury, or violence. This can happen by directly witnessing the trauma, or by learning the details of a trauma indirectly.

PTSD also happens when you’re experiencing the traumatic event in certain ways that include nightmares, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or exposure to something that triggers traumatic reminders. Completely avoiding thoughts, feelings, or reminders of the traumatic experience can also be a symptom of PTSD. Usually, symptoms must have lasted for one month, but not all symptoms have to exist to be diagnosed with PTSD.

Commonly Missed Symptoms:

Self-Blame

Women often internalize traumatic events and feel responsible for what happened. In an attempt to minimize the pain, they just self-blame. Women are known to shoulder burdens and this behavior puts them at higher risk for experiencing PTSD when they are exposed to a traumatic event.

Christian Counselors Are Ready to Help

Don’t let the pressure of being perfect prevent you from seeking help. If you are women between the ages of 30 and 50 and find yourself relating to what’s been shared in this post, help is out there. Taking the step of finding a counselor can be daunting, but it can lead to incredible freedom in your life. Counseling can help in ways you might not even realize.

Remember, you are not alone. Anxiety is common and treatable. A professional, established counselor will come alongside you during this season of life and equip with the tools to take on your anxiety.

Photos:
“Portrait,” courtesy of Remy Loz, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Alone,” courtesy of Ann Demianenko, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Nervous,” courtesy of Eddie Kopp, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Trapped,” courtesy of Paul Gilmore, unsplash.com, Public Domain License

Social Anxiety Disorder: How to Manage and How to Thrive

Imagine being caught in a riptide. Your breath hitches and heart starts beating so loudly that you can’t hear the crashing waves. You are paralyzed and don’t know whether you will sink or swim. Suddenly, you feel energy flood your body and every hair on your back and arms stand up with anticipation.

You begin to swim, focused on nothing else except the beach. All of this takes less than 15 seconds, but when you get out of the current, you feel like you’ve been swimming for 15 hours.

This example of a flight-or-fight response is similar to the ones people experience in most dangerous, life-threatening situations. Our brain assesses the risk and tells our body how to respond

It is called an automatic stress response to danger, and under it, the body moves faster, bleeds less, and floods muscles with energy hormones while the brain disengages from all other input other than the main threat. This response is instinctual and meant to aid in survival.

But what if this happened every time you had to talk with someone new? Or every time you went to class, or church, or a party? What if this automatic stress response kicked in at coffee shops and shopping malls and yoga studios, and it always seemed like you were being swept out to sea, even when you were on a business call? This kind of survival response can be exhausting when triggered all the time, and can seriously affect a person’s quality of life.

Social anxiety disorder is like this. People with social anxiety fear embarrassment, being judged and evaluated negatively by others, and finding themselves in situations where they could be scrutinized. This fear leads to the avoidance of social situations altogether.

Sometimes this anxiety can be overwhelming. Social anxiety disorders correlate with a low quality of life. There is a greater risk of dropping out of school, experiencing lower work productivity, and receiving a lower income (Edmund Bourne, Ph.D. 2015). For this to be a clinical diagnosis, however, this fear or anxiety must stick around for six months or longer.

Humans crave connection and we are created for community and positive interaction. Social interaction is necessary for people to thrive. Just as food helps fuel the body, social interaction helps fuel the brain. When a social anxiety disorder is ignored, it puts a person at risk for unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

While anxiety in itself can be helpful (it typically serves as a prompt to grow or change), paralyzing anxiety can be dangerous. The key is to learn how to manage the anxiety so that it is not so overwhelming that the person is unable to function.

Planning Recovery

Several interventions exist for addressing and treating social anxiety, but the most important thing to know is: ask for help. Help can look different for each person but exists in many forms. Read a book on different treatment approaches, enlist the support of family and/or friends, or meet with a therapist. Just take the first step!

We hope this post will provide you with an overview of successful interventions and give you examples of common treatment plans for this disorder. The four following approaches can help people cope with their social anxiety:

1. Relaxation Training
2. Core Belief Transformation
3. Exposure Tasking
4. Personal Assertiveness Practice

While these four things aren’t the totality of intervention for a social anxiety disorder, they give a good overview of what a therapist might do to help someone manage their diagnosis.

Relaxation Training

We tend to perform best when we feel relaxed. We are more alert and energized, and willing to approach uncomfortable situations. With an anxiety disorder, however, relaxation seems out of reach. This is partly because the fight-or-flight response is antithetical to the relaxation response.

It takes practice. Relaxation training decreases an overactive heart rate, respiration, high blood pressure, muscle tension, and oxygen consumption. It calms the overly analytical brain and increases skin resistance and alpha wave activity in the brain. (Edmund Bourne, Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, 2015).

Since people with social anxiety disorders often have past negative social experiences, they avoid future experiences in an attempt to mitigate any humiliation or degradation they might perceive. This avoidance ultimately strengthens the anxiety response to social situations. With mastery of relaxation techniques, the same person can gain confidence in social situations (even if they had past negative experiences).

Relaxation training can take the form of guided imagery, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, and abdominal breathing. The method one chooses isn’t as important as the frequency with which they practice their chosen method. Twenty to thirty minutes a day can produce positive, life-changing results.

This is typically the first step to overcoming social anxiety. If you can relax, you can better assess risks. Relaxation helps free a person to face the situation they have previously learned to avoid.

Core Belief Transformation

Our thoughts are powerful, and when they are unhelpful, they can be powerful barriers to overcoming social anxiety. Our willingness to participate in social activities is directly related to how we think about ourselves, about others, about the situation, etc. Negative thoughts lead to increased anxiety.

We find that the more intense the thoughts are, the more intense the feelings are. The goal of managing any anxiety disorder is to reduce anxiety levels so that one is free to engage their social world. For example, someone with a social anxiety disorder might think and believe that they will look foolish if they speak in a meeting.

The more they think this, the higher their anxiety climbs, making it almost impossible for them to speak up. If they can change their belief that they are “foolish” and switch it to something less intense, like “I’m concerned others won’t like my ideas,” they are freer to explore ways to challenge that thought and speak up.

Edmund Bourne, Ph.D., recommends five questions for lowering the intensity of negative thoughts and challenging mistaken beliefs:

1. What objective evidence do you have for this belief?
2. Does this belief ALWAYS hold true for you?
3. Does this belief take into account the negative and positive outcomes? (Does it look at the whole picture?)
4. Does this belief give you peace of mind or promote your well-being?
5. Did you choose this belief on your own, or did it come from your experience growing up in your family?

Asking these questions will better help a person develop new thoughts that are less anxiety-provoking. While difficult to do at first, a supportive therapist can help those with social anxiety challenge their core beliefs so they can engage their social world without fear.

Exposure Tasking

Social anxiety disorder acts like a phobia. When you are afraid of something, you tend to avoid it. People with social anxiety disorder avoid social situations. They experience anxiety when confronted with particular stimuli (speaking in public, taking public transportation, attending parties, etc.), and when they avoid that stimulus, their anxiety is reduced.

The avoidance is like a reward-system and the more it happens, the more it creates a pathway in the brain to allow it to happen. The brain starts making the connection automatically, and the avoidance becomes second-nature. When anxiety reactions get hardwired into a person’s brain, it can be difficult to re-route.

However, our brains are built to adapt, change, and form new connections. This is called neuroplasticity. This rewiring process is also called exposure and exposure helps people unlearn “the connection between anxiety and a particular situation.” (Bourne, 2015).

Exposure tasking allows a person to enter a scary situation, feel their anxiety rise, endure the anxiety, and realize they can survive it. This ultimately allows that person to unlearn their anxiety response and gain confidence in their ability to handle it.

The key to doing this is to break down the exposure tasks into manageable chunks. The anxiety can be mastered in successive stages instead of all at once.

For example:

Fred is afraid of public speaking. He chooses exposure tasking to help him conquer his fear. He first imagines himself on stage speaking in front of a crowd. While doing this, he acknowledges all his thoughts and feelings.

If they are negative, he replaces them with positive. Next, he practices in front of a mirror. After he feels comfortable, he gathers a group of friends. On this goes until he is able to face the anxiety-provoking situation, literally rewiring his brain.

Personal Assertiveness Practice

The final approach that can help someone cope with social anxiety is assertive communication. This is a direct, non-reactive, clear, and honest form of self-expression that allows a person to interact with others in a non-anxious way.

The key elements of assertive communication include the following:

  • Identifying personal needs;
  • Describing facts;
  • Sharing personal feelings;
  • Making personal requests;
  • Providing positive reasons for need.

For example, if Fred was angry at a friend who always canceled plans, his first step would be to figure out his need. His need would be reliability. After identifying this need, he would sit down with his friend to discuss the facts in a non-emotional way. “You have canceled plans the past 5 times we’ve made them.”

Then he’d share his feelings. “This makes me feel unsure and confused.” Finally, he’d make his request by providing positive reasons for it. “I need you to keep plans when we make them or not make plans until you know for sure that you can go. It will help me feel confident in our relationship and give me assurance that we are in a good place.”

Even if Fred’s friend did not respond well, Fred has demonstrated that he can stand up for himself and not let his anxiety rule his friendships or create unhealthy relationships. Practicing this is key to being able to do this in everyday situations.

Conclusion

These four areas of intervention are just a small overview of what treatment looks like for social anxiety disorder. This is not a substantial how-to, as much as it is an informative look at what needs to happen when approaching this diagnosis.

There is help, intervention, and healing for social anxiety. Recovery is achievable and with the right supports in place, it is a journey worth taking.

Photos

“Blue Sea”, Courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo, Pexels.com; CC0 License; “Relaxation,” courtesy of Kosal Ley, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Time to Think,” courtesy of Enrico, Flickr Creative Commons; “Group Therapy”, Courtesy of Rudamese, Pixabay.com; CC0 License

How to Help Your Child Overcome Symptoms of Anxiety

When we imagine childhood, often thoughts of being carefree and happy flash across our minds. We hope for the same things for our children, yet more kids are showing symptoms of anxiety.

Unfortunately, they aren’t immune to anxiety. They enter this big, scary world and face many mountains of their own. Think about moving towns, changing schools or even having to participate in a spelling bee when there’s a learning or attention issue. Anxiety can be crippling at any age.

What Do Symptoms of Anxiety Look Like in Children?

All children get stressed at some point in life. They might have a test coming up or a tryout for a sport that turns their tummy into knots. If that’s the case, how do you know if your child is overly anxious? Children struggling with anxiety may have frequent stomach aches, headaches, completely stop eating and stop playing with other friends.

If your child is worried about an activity months or weeks in the future, this is a major indicator anxiety is consuming him. Children can also worry about catastrophes that are unlikely to happen and ask many ‘what if’ questions like, “What if our house catches on fire during the night?”

A child’s anxiety can extend beyond himself and affect his family. Some parents plan their vacations around finding a place that won’t disturb their child and trigger anxiety.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and feel helpless when your child is facing anxiety, but when you remain steadfast and calm you can be fully present to guide your child through their everyday anxiety.

To help a child overcome anxiety, it’s important to first understand what’s going on in their mind. Children form anxious thoughts after sensing a threat and lacking the ability to cope. It derails them from daily activities when they get stuck in this pattern of thinking. The things that cause your child anxiety might not appear major, but it’s crucial to understand and empathize with your child’s struggle.

How to Keep Your Child From Worrying

Make sure your children feel heard and understood when they begin to worry. Don’t dismiss or minimize their feelings. To them, the feelings and thoughts are as real as you are and they need your reassurance. Next, teach them about two different paths the mind can take. Your anxious child automatically goes down the worry path without realizing that another option exists.

Help your child understand how the body changes when experiencing fear and anxiety, so he can begin to recognize the signs. Teach your child to talk back to their worries and fears. Imagine worry as a big bully or monster that can be conquered by telling why it isn’t welcome in your world.

The worry bully exists to keep everybody from enjoying life. Parents and siblings can even gang up on the worry bully together so that one child doesn’t feel isolated in this. The worry bully is an enemy we all must face together.

Show your child how he has the power to change his thinking. Give an example of a situation that could potentially cause anxiety for your child. Maybe even the thought of riding a school bus without you would cause him anxiety. The thoughts and feelings might range from, “What if nobody sits by me? What if the bus driver leaves me somewhere wrong? What if I get picked on? The bus is scary.”

Instead, you can think of it this way, “The bus driver is a professional and cares about the kids. My classmates show up every day to school without getting left somewhere else. My good friend Robby would sit with me if I asked him. My classmates even talk about how much fun it is to ride a bus.” The thoughts slowly shift to ones of excitement and confidence.

Don’t Give Up

Rewiring the brain to externalize anxiety takes time. If the family continues to focus on working together as a team to fight the worry bully, your child will experience different ways to overcome those anxious thoughts and not allow worry to wear him down. Talking with a counselor can help the family navigate through anxiety and brainstorm strategies for overcoming its influence.

Photos:
“Girl,” Courtesy of greekfood-tamystika, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Worried,” Courtesy of Eneas De Troya, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Afraid,” Courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Plea”, Courtesy of Bkrmadtya Karki, Pixabay.com, CC0 License

Two Common Anxiety Disorders in Children

Do you recall what your very first day at school felt like? Or how about your first day of work on the job? These thoughts and fears may no longer reside in your memory since they were normal and temporary reactions. However, imagine how it would feel if you were to experience those same feelings constantly, even when they made no sense!

These feelings of anxiety can be overwhelming for a child. Maybe your child struggles with anxiety and you are wondering what is really going on in their head when they fear a social setting so much that they can’t participate.

It can be tough on the whole family when one of the children struggles with anxiety symptoms, and even more so when their best friend or their teacher just doesn’t get what is happening, or understand how to support them.

Some teachers are not equipped to know what is happening when a child experiences anxiety and they can underestimate the effects that it has on the student’s success and performance and social relationships. Teachers may confuse anxiety with other things, such as behavioral issues, and not know how best to work with parents for a successful outcome, as well as how to advocate for the child within the larger framework of the school system.

Perhaps you have wondered how to better understand your child’s needs when they face these types of challenges but are met with misunderstandings and/or lack of support from others.

The remainder of this article will cover 10 ways that anxiety affects a child’s life and education:

  • A child’s feelings of worry about themselves, their parents, or family members
  • Having nightmares or night terrors and lack of sleep
  • Symptoms of panic attacks
  • Decline in educational success
  • Physical symptoms of headaches and stomachaches
  • Extreme difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Heightened risk of developing depression or other anxiety disorders
  • Lack of social skills or experience
  • Low levels of communication while in social situations
  • Being misunderstood by family, school teachers, and/or peers

There is a difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder. There are anxiety disorders that occur only in children. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) distinguishes between anxiety disorders and normative fear or anxiety, noting that anxiety disorders are extreme and persist beyond a time that is developmentally appropriate.

Anxiety disorders in children can cause them to read greater levels of danger into a situation or completely avoid it. Separation anxiety disorder and selective mutism typically begin in the early years and persist throughout adulthood when left untreated. Sometimes children with anxiety disorders may have the symptom of panic attacks in response to a fear.

Separation Anxiety

Although some separation from a caregiver is normal in children, separation anxiety is when a child is so anxious from the separation of a caregiver that it is developmentally inappropriate. The diagnostic criteria for separation anxiety disorder include:

  • Nightmares
  • Worry that their attachment figure might be hurt in some way and a reluctance to be separated from them.
  • Physical symptoms related to distress.
  • Extreme apprehension about possible events such as kidnapping, accidents, getting lost or getting sick – anything that might separate them from their attachment figure.
  • Reluctance or refusal to leave the house and go to places like school, aversion to sleeping somewhere other than home, and physical symptoms such as head or stomach aches when separated from the attachment figure.

The most commonly diagnosed childhood anxiety disorder is separation anxiety. School disruption effects 75% of children struggling with separation anxiety because of their unwillingness to even attend school on a daily basis. Even children who end up going to school may still suffer because they cannot focus on what is being taught due to their anxiety over those at home.

Sleep disturbances are also common with symptoms consisting of nightmares as well as physical symptoms. This is a challenge for any parent who is unaware of the level of fear that their child experiences from sleeping in their room alone.

When a child does not get enough sleep, it is difficult for them to function at school. Their behavior may cause confusion in the classroom which can create tension in their relationship with teachers and peers. The behavior can become so disruptive that the teachers and peers may find it difficult to engage with them on a developmentally appropriate social level, resulting in the child being labeled as defiant.

A parent may develop their own response to their child’s anxiety symptoms. Some parental responses can end up reinforcing the child’s symptoms and behaviors. Negative behaviors may result in a parent removing them from the area in which the behavior occurred, which can increase their anxiety even more.

This can be increasingly frustrated for parents who struggle to understand what is going on with their child. Parents may continue to reinforce behaviors, for example, by allowing their child to sleep with them when they fear to sleep alone or to stay home from school when they do not want to go. This is detrimental to the family as a whole and may cause stress to the rest of the family.

Do you have a closer bond with one child more than the others? Perhaps this bond was formed with the child who most needs the sense of closeness and safety. This can cause rifts between you and your spouse or other family members before you are even aware of it.  While you spend much of your time attending to the child struggling with separation anxiety, others in the family may be feeling left out.

Not only does separation anxiety have an immediate effect, but it can prove detrimental long-term as well. The isolation a child experiences today can bring on social problems, later on, making it more likely they will remain unmarried. In addition, children who suffer from separation anxiety disorder are more likely to develop depression or other types of anxiety disorders as they grow up.

Selective Mutism

Anxiety can affect a child’s life and educational success in other, more subtle ways. Does your child never talk at school, but won’t stop talking as soon as you pick them up?

Does your child act shy in public when around people that you know, when only moments ago they were laughing and talking with their brothers or sisters in the car? Does this seem to be context-specific? Perhaps they suffer from selective mutism, another anxiety disorder that can strike children.

Selective mutism, though quite rare, typically affects children prior to the age of five. It often goes unnoticed until such time as the child enters school. Many times, children grow out of selective mutism, but understanding the effects, symptoms, and signs of it is still important because of the many ways that anxiety can affect a child’s life and education.

In order to deliver a diagnosis of Selective mutism, certain criteria have to be met, such as:

  • Not speaking in settings or situations where it would normally be expected (i.e. – school).
  • Not speaking when it isn’t merely a result of ignorance of the subject being spoken about.
  • Symptoms that are unrelated to some other type of communication disorder or which happen simultaneously with some other disorder, like autism spectrum disorder.
  • Behavior that lasts for more than a month and stretches beyond the first month of school, when children are normally hesitant to participate in their new surroundings.

Here are a few factors that are critical for understanding the kinds of symptoms that one should look for. Children with selective mutism will often have normal patterns of communication at home with their family. However, they will clam up in public settings (such as school) and may even fail to speak to their extended family members who do not live with them. Children may also be silent when in the company of peers.

A child with anxiety may have even more of a struggle in making friends at school than will a child who is anxiety free. It is even more challenging for a child that suffers from selective mutism. Other children may be hesitant to befriend a child that cannot talk to them.

Selective mutism may also produce other problems at school, especially if the teacher cannot interact with, and assess the educational levels of the child, or where the child cannot communicate their needs to the teacher.

Even though children with selective mutism can occasionally come up with nonverbal methods of communication, like pointing, the lack of communication may increase the possibility that they will be teased by peers, which will further aggravate their anxieties about being in social settings.

A child with anxiety, whether ongoing or only occasional, has feelings, emotions, and behaviors that may be initially confusing to those who care about them. Young children will likely not understand the anxiety symptoms in their body at first, but they pass into the adolescent years they become more aware and they may prioritize their need to feel better, even though they might not know exactly how to achieve this.

They may try things that may appear to relieve the anxieties that they experience and run the risk of developing unhealthy or risky habits that can lead to increased anxiety, shame, guilt, or confusion.

Parents, siblings, friends, and teachers can find it a significant challenge to interact with a child that experiences all the worry and fear brought on by separation anxiety or selective mutism. However, these challenges can be overcome – there is hope, because of the high success rate of managing both conditions.

Therapy can (and should) include both the child and family members to increase their understanding of the symptoms and to help develop more appropriate ways to manage anxiety and its causes. Children will be taught more appropriate ways of coping with their anxiety and develop skills to change their thought patterns when anxiety symptoms show up.

If you are unsure whether anxiety is the cause of your child’s distress, schedule an appointment with a Christian Counselor Newport Beach today. Becoming educated about your child’s anxiety can be the beginning of a new day for everyone.

Photos
“I love you,” courtesy of London Scout, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Afraid,” courtesy of Joseph Gonzalez, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Coloring time,” courtesy of Aaron Burden, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Smug,” courtesy of vborodinova, unsplash.com, CC0 License 

How to Cope During a Panic Attack

Are chest pains, a pounding heart, faintness, weakness or dizziness, breathing difficulties, sweatiness or chills, a feeling of impending doom all too familiar symptoms to you? If so, then you probably know how upsetting a panic attack can be.

Some people even think they’re having a heart attack when they experience these symptoms, so a trip to the emergency room would be wise to rule out the possibility. It’s quite stressful for your body, and it takes a toll on your emotions as well.

A Defense Mechanism

Stress is not necessarily evil, though. It’s the body’s way of reminding us we need to keep things in check. Our bodies are fragile and yet also adaptable, ready to cope with whatever comes its way.

The body is equipped with the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) which acts as a defense mechanism that helps us in times of crisis. This sympathetic nervous system stimulates the fight or flight response, which helps your body to make a split-second decision to either stand and defend yourself against a certain threat or flee it.

For instance, when faced with a person in an alley who seems to be wielding a weapon, your SNS could either prepare you to take out your umbrella to defend yourself (fight) or run the opposite direction as fast as you can (flight). Basically, the function of the SNS is to do whatever is necessary to maintain that balance, to keep you safe.

Traumas and Triggers

Understandably, your body would be agitated by such an encounter. Suppose you realize shortly after that instead of a weapon, that stranger was actually just holding a flashlight. Your parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) then takes over to calm you down, helping you to relax by inhibiting or slowing the high energy functions activated by the SNS. It slows down your heart rate and relaxes some muscles, among other things.

The PNS is crucial because too much stress damages the body. Events like these can leave you traumatized, and trauma can rewire your brain and make your body act as if you’re always in danger, making it nearly impossible to remain in a state of calm. This predisposes you to anxiety and panic. If this persists for more than six months and remains unchecked, anti-anxiety medication may be required to help you keep things in check.

Our bodies have a way of remembering trauma. This can lead to a panic attack, which usually has a trigger. But not all triggers are the overt type. Some are less obvious, and this can make it quite challenging to figure out exactly what triggered your panic attack. This commonly happens when you don’t have outlets for these traumatic experiences, such as having someone to talk to and process these events with.

In these cases, they can build up in our system and implode with a panic attack even without any tangible trigger. A fainting spell is also possible; though this could also have a more serious root cause, in which case it would be best to see a doctor.

What You Can Do

You may begin to think that you’re helpless when it comes to managing your anxiety. The good news is that you’re not. There are many coping skills you can learn to help you keep your anxiety at bay. You have your parasympathetic nervous system to thank for that.

It may take a while, but it is definitely possible to unlearn your body’s response to trauma and retrain it to respond differently to anxious thoughts and feelings. One of the best and easiest ways to do this would be to control your breathing.

Here is a step-by-step procedure on how to do just that:

  1. First, find a place where you can sit in a comfortable, relaxed posture.
  2. Next, engage your diaphragm and breathe slowly. Make sure you push out your stomach (diaphragm). You can place your hand on your stomach to ensure its movement.
  3. Inhale slowly (through the nose) to the count of three. Inhale 1…2…3. Then exhale slowly through your mouth.
  4. If you were able to do that, increase the count of your inhale to six. Inhale 1…2…3…4…5…6. Then exhale slowly.
  5. Do this for a minute, focusing on your breathing and just feel the anxiety melting away as your body calms down.
  6. Continue this exercise and increase deep breathing duration to two minutes, then five, then ten, or twenty if necessary.

This exercise may not be easy to do at first. But just as you are teaching your body to cope in different ways, you are also unlearning some unhealthy learned responses to stress, so it may take a while to get used to. Take it easy on yourself. After all, you’re doing your part to teach your body that it’s okay to calm down.

The Three R’s: A Non-Medicinal Treatment Approach for Anxiety

A guide to the non-medicinal treatment of anxiety can be outlined with these three words: Recognize, Reflect and Redirect.

Recognize – A wise man once said: “Anxiety is a monster that grows when we feed it with avoidance.” This could not be truer. Some people are predisposed to avoiding anxious thoughts with unhelpful coping mechanisms, such as diverting their attention to social media, television or whatever it is that makes the anxiety go away…temporarily.

The thing with avoidance is that it does not solve the issue. It doesn’t even recognize the issue. Not recognizing the issue means not recognizing the need to keep things in check, until the issue has spiraled out of control. A series of persistent anxious thoughts that remain unchecked could lead to a panic attack, which leads to more panic attacks. This is why recognizing that you feel anxious is crucial in managing anxiety.

Reflect – Not all stress or anxiety is bad. In fact, a certain amount of anxiety could keep you out of trouble. For instance, that sudden stress you feel when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize you left your front door unlocked would be enough to make you get out of bed to lock it so you can keep your family safe, no matter how tired you are.

But catastrophic expectations, such as thinking that one day, you are bound to forget to lock the door and an intruder will come in can quickly spiral into panic. Which is why it’s necessary to do a bit of reflection and consider asking yourself, “Is there anything I can do about this now?” If nothing can be done for the moment, then focus on the present. Practice deep breathing and remind yourself to focus on the now.

Redirect – Here come the helpful diversionary tactics. Once you’ve been able to recognize the anxious thought and reflect on it, it’s important to ensure it doesn’t cycle back to being picked up again. Now is the time to focus on positive things like work, your environment or even a memory verse from the Bible that ministers to you about your anxiety. Focus on mindfulness, the here and now, your extrasensory experiences and engage your imagination.

An example of using redirection would be to put on some relaxing music and work with your hands (clean the house, wash your car, clean up your closet) after you’ve recognized an anxious thought and reflected on it. As you redirect, engage your imagination and think about the instruments being used to play the music, consider what it must’ve been like as they recorded the song, think of who the musicians were.

While you’re at it, consider also the feel of your hands working through whatever it is you’re touching – a broom, a t-shirt, a sponge. Feel the texture, weight, shape in your hands. These mindfulness techniques help you focus on the here and now, thereby redirecting your mind and preventing the anxious thought from starting up again.

Growth and Healing Are Choices

One important thing to remember with any treatment approach is that you need to treat yourself with curiosity and kindness. The curiosity will help you look into your emotional world and try to see what drives your trauma, and the kindness will go a long way in your journey of healing.

All your past experiences, good or bad, shape your emotional structure as do your responses to these events. The responses may have ended up as learned (though unwanted) behavior. The key is that once you recognize that there is a pattern of unwanted behavior you may have picked up from some negative past experience, you have the chance to free yourself from being a helpless victim. If that means you need to take anti-anxiety medication then do so – there is no shame in that.

To say that a lack of faith causes anxiety is to oversimplify a psychological condition and undermine faith. In fact, in 1 Timothy 5:23, Timothy is given instruction by Paul to drink wine to ease his stomach discomfort. This shows men of faith taking practical steps to heal physical ailments.

Why should asking for help to ease your minds be any different? After all, God has given you a sound mind to be able to discern where to seek treatment – whether it be a recovery group, counseling or a psychiatrist. God has provided avenues for healing. You must make the choice to move forward.

God Loves and Values You

It is unfortunate that many believers think God doesn’t want us to feel good about ourselves. Blame it on the excesses of the self-esteem movement in the 60s that took Christianity and feeling good about oneself out of context and to an extreme.

No matter what has happened in the past, what’s happening now, and what’s to come, God loves you. He treasures you. Remember what He did on the cross to redeem you. This should be enough to remind you of your worth in His eyes. So stop believing the lies of the enemy. You ARE worth it.

Stop beating yourself up – He has already won. The work is done. Christ is victorious. All you need to do is take steps to manage your anxiety. God wants you to see His goodness in your life.

Christian Counseling for Anxiety

You are created in God’s image. As God’s image-bearers on earth, shouldn’t you be the best version of yourself so that you can reflect God’s greatness? If you struggle with anxiety, if it holds you back in any way perhaps Christian counseling Newport Beach could help you examine your struggles and provide expert guidance on how to cope. After all, you are not meant to bear this burden alone.

 

Photos

“Depressed,” courtesy of HolgersFotographie, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Upset,” courtesy of Ben White, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Please, Lord,” courtesy of Diana Simumpande, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stretch,” courtesy of Jacob Postuma, unsplash.com, CC0 License

3 Strategies for Gaining Control Over Anxiety Symptoms

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, at least 6.8 million adults (3.1% of America’s population) are affected by Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

When you are suffering from GAD, anything can get you worried. More often than not, you end up worried about things that do not even make sense. So much so that you end up feeling silly and embarrassed at acknowledging that such trivial things can nag you and keep you awake at night.

But these worries are anything but silly. Feelings of worry and dread are as real as can be and apart from leading to insomnia, you could also end up depressed.

Over time, people can get their anxiety symptoms under control more easily when they understand the neurological underpinnings behind their anxiety. Whenever anxious thoughts or feelings kick in, the natural response is to try to figure out the reason behind the anxiety.

In most cases, this is where we start thinking, “This is silly,” or “You have no justification for worrying about this.” In the process, we fail to realize that even though these things could be true, the brain is also searching for things to worry about.

An anxious mind automatically scans the surroundings for anything to worry about. As soon as a source of worry is located, the body reacts.

Granted, our bodies react differently, but worry usually makes your body experience the same signs and symptoms that you would experience if faced with a dangerous situation or threat.

Consider your reaction when watching an intense or scary movie. As your brain and senses take in the information, your body starts to respond to the chemicals being released as a result of the stimuli. You might feel your stomach tightening, your breath quickening, and your hands getting clammy. This is actually what happens to you when you are worried or anxious. If there is no relief to these symptoms, the tension becomes chronic.

Common Anxiety Symptoms

Symptoms of anxiety could be classified into three broad categories. These three categories also help define the three different ways of dealing with anxiety. The first category is the physical arousal which leads to panic. The second category is comprised of dread, tension, and stress. The last category is where ruminating and worry fall.

This article focuses on how you can use Body Management to deal with the first category of anxiety symptoms.

Use of Body Management to Deal with Panic and Physical Arousal

Anxiety symptoms refer to what you feel whenever anxiety hits. A panic attack can make your body to experience an accelerated pulse, shortness of breath, and dizziness. Anxiety and panic attacks can come out of the blue, and this can make them frustrating and terrifying in equal measure – especially if you do not understand them.

Other symptoms include tension build up in the shoulders, jaws, and neck, and stomach pains.

Taking care of your body

Getting your body under full control is the first step in dealing with the physical symptoms of anxiety. There are a number of ways to achieve this. First and foremost, you need to take good care of your body and health. This means exercising, proper diet, and lots of rest everyday.

Too much caffeine and alcohol also make your body more susceptible to anxious arousal. Sleep deprivation and lack of exercise can cause this. A healthy body is a powerful way to ensure you attain control of your body to avoid anxiety and panic attacks.

Breathing diaphragmatically

Using diaphragmatic breathing is a proven method of calming and resting the body. Practicing this type of breathing makes your body accustomed to being in this state. This comes in handy when living with anxiety because you can easily use it on a daily basis. However, it can be even more beneficial whenever you notice the symptoms of anxiety creeping in.

Diaphragmatic breathing helps by either shifting or even stopping the stress response. It is a good idea to practice diaphragmatic breathing daily because it will make it easier to use it whenever anxiety kicks in.

Mindful awareness

The practice of mindful awareness is another strategy you can use to put your body under control. Most times, the physical symptoms are so vivid that you can’t help but think about them – and this worsens the situation. Mindful awareness will help you to stop thinking about your body and instead focus your thoughts on your environment.

This strategy will help you regain control over your body. The first thing you do is to turn your attention from the symptoms of anxiety to the experiences of your body, e.g. the way breathing feels or your heart rate. After this, you should shift attention away from the body onto something that you can smell, hear, or feel, such as any sound in your immediate environment or how your clothes feel against your skin.

As you go through this back and forth, you get the experience of having control over your body. It reminds you that you can be present in the prevailing moment without becoming a slave to the feelings.

Christian Counseling for Anxiety

Gaining control over your anxiety symptoms is possible. If you would like help in overcoming your anxiety, feel free to give us a call. We would be happy to meet with you to help you experience the freedom and peace you desire.

Photos
“Alone,” courtesy of Tyler McRobert, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Empty,” courtesy of Eddy Lackmann, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Breathe,” courtesy of Matthew Kane, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Freedom,” courtesy of Alexis_Fotos, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License