May 2014

Turn That Frown Upside Down: Drug-Free Solutions to Reduce Your Childs Anxiety

Author: Becca Edwards

When I was a young girl and every bit the title character from “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” my father would say, “Rebecca, let’s turn that frown upside down.” His big smile and even bigger heart always shifted my mood from negative to positive. I channel him every time one of my three girls is having an emotional rough patch and give them the same advice. So far, it’s working for them, too. But as they mature, I worry if these words will always do the trick.

According to Dr. Debi Lynes, a counseling psychologist who specializes in adolescents and young adults, “Both SAMHSA [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Adminisration] and NIMH [National Institute of Mental Health] report that stress and anxiety have trumped depression as the number one non-physical complaint for teens and adolescents. Interestingly enough, anxiety and stress often manifest physically in the form of irritability, insomnia, headaches, and stomachaches or gastrointestinal problems. And startlingly, stress is the chief complaint from children as young as nine.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines anxiety disorders as a group of mental illnesses that cause people to feel excessively frightened, distressed, or uneasy during situations in which most other people would not experience these same feelings. When not treated, anxiety disorders can be severely impairing and can negatively affect a person’s personal relationships or ability to work or study. Anxiety disorders can further cause low self-esteem, lead to substance abuse, and isolation from one’s friends and family.

According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
Parents need to understand that just because their adolescent or teen doesn’t encounter typical adult stressors like paying bills or building a career, he or she is still under a tremendous amount of pressure. Furthermore, the stress he or she experiences now is greater than the normal stress load we faced as youths.

“Access to 24-7 information is shaping the way we think. For years, we had to search for information. Now we have to do the opposite. We are so bombarded with information, we need to block out the extraneous,” Lynes said. As a result, youths have two stress feeders—one directly coming from society and social media and the other indirectly from witnessing their parents’ stress level.

“Keep in mind, anxiety is a good thing,” Lynes explained. “Developmentally, this is fight or flight; this how you historically survived. As a cave man, when the hair on the back of your neck stood up, it was because you sensed danger.”

By uniting the rational and emotional minds, Lynes contends we can develop “the wise mind” and “radically accept that things are what they are”—meaning teens and adults alike can be a witness (not a victim) to their emotions and thoughts.

Lynes recommends several drug-free alternatives to combating adolescent and teen anxiety. “Don’t be fooled by masking anxiety and stress with drugs,” she said. “Anything that temporarily eases the issue, whether it is a pill, drink, or piece of candy does not teach a child to self-soothe.” Instead, she wants to empower her patients with wellness techniques such as breath work, meditation and aromatherapy—each of which might be described as “holistic.”

Yet Lynes is hesitant to use that term stating, “Maybe we need to throw out the word ‘holistic.’ It has a voodoo or new age quality to it. We are simply talking about our mind, our body and our spirit coming together. We are talking about providing your child with doable, practical solutions that they can wrap their arms around.”

Thankfully, there are several drug-free, out-of-the-box options (some new, some ancient) to help adolescents or teens learn to turn that frown upside down—not just today, but for the rest of their lives. Let’s begin with The Bars, a technique grounded in the principles taught in Access Consciousness. According to Dr. Anthony Mattis, “Bars is a simple yet powerful hands-on body tool that can unlock areas of limitations in our lives. It deals with electromagnetic points that carry limiting beliefs in the areas of money, happiness, joy, peace, calm, gratitude, creativity, healing—just to name a few. At the very least, it’s very relaxing, and at best, it will change your life forever.”

Mattis has practiced chiropractic for over a decade and has been doing the Bars for two years. Since working with the Bars, he said, “I have observed changes in people—especially my kids. For them it works quicker [than adults].”

Mattis agrees with Lynes that we are, over-stimulated with technology and that pressure is coming from a variety of places now. “Kids today are in a constant state of fight or flight,” he said. He recommends being proactive—whether you are addressing your own mental-physical health, or your child’s. “If you don’t deal with issues initially, they will snowball into larger issues later,” he said, “and it’s much easier to deal with it when they are younger. Parents have to be willing to look at their part as well. Otherwise it will limit the child’s progress.”

Visionary craniosacral practitioner Molly Tomiczek agrees and recommends that parents receive work in tandem with their children so that any mutually shared angst is resolved together. She described craniosacral work as an evolution out of cranial osteopathy (a specialization introduced in the 1930s by William Garner Sutherland) that has traditionally focused on the 22 bones that make up the human head, the vertebra and sacrum, and also on the brain, the central nervous system, the cerebrospinal fluid and the system of membranes inside the cranium and spinal column. Craniosacral therapists often focus on optimizing the position, fluid movement (or “wave”) and energy (or “piezoelectric charge” and “chi”) of these parts of the craniosacral system, as well as bringing the craniosacral system back to balance in the central line of the body, called the midline. Because stress often manifests physically in the body, Tomiczek pointed out, “There is no doubt in my mind that anxiety is the precursor to much larger ‘projects’ for the body. I like to use the word project versus problem, because a project is something we can work on and resolve.”

Another modality, acupuncture, has been benefitting people for over 5,000 years. Nationally certified acupuncturist Peter West said, “Simply put, acupuncture moves energy. Sickness and stress is a blockage of energy. If you open up a person’s energy field, the body then self-heals. Life is stressful—for adults, teens and adolescents—and stress reduces the body’s natural resistance both physically and emotionally. Therefore, parents need to be proactive with their children and stress management.”

West believes acupuncture is age-appropriate for most youths 12 and older but also suggests parents consider their child’s temperament and ability to remain still and receive the treatment (which includes small painless needles). He recently helped a 16-year-old struggling with anxiety. “The beauty of working with children is they tend to heal naturally quickly,” West said.

In addition, parents should consider nutritional changes. “The more whole your food is, the more you feel whole,” Lynes said.

According to Dr. David Sack in an article for Psychology Today, “Numerous studies have shown the deleterious effects a sweet tooth can have on mood, learning and quality of life. The standard American diet, which is full of sugar and fat, does not necessarily cause anxiety, but it does appear to worsen anxiety symptoms and impair the body’s ability to cope with stress.”

Lynes maintains the most significant drug-free step to reducing adolescent and teen anxiety is recognizing that mental and physical health cannot be separated. “Actively listen to your children—not just hearing their words, but listening to what they are actually telling you.” 

Becca Edwards is a holistic health coach, yoga and Barre instructor, birth doula, writer/blogger and owner of b.e.well and b.e.creative ( Her M.F.A in writing thesis, Teenangles, was an oral history book about the modern teen.

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