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Stress/Anxiety - When to be concerned

STRESS is a natural response to challenging situations and also provides us with the processes necessary for our survival. We need to be able to activate a stress response in order to kick our brains into the higher gears needed to respond to situations. Stress is a temporary response where the heart rate may increase, sweat glands may be activated, emotions may run high.

ONGOING STRESS will however result in ANXIETY. We are not designed to live in these "high gears" of reactivity and exposure to prolonged periods of stress will result in a state of anxiety. Here we are unable to rationally talk ourselves down from a state of high alert. Our feelings may be out of proportion to the perceived threat as our minds tend to catastrophise situations and we come up with the worst possible "what if" scenarios.

On QEEG we would note elevated levels of fast Beta activity which is disproportionate to the amount of slow-wave activity noted.

Physical symptoms of anxiety may look like this:

  • Headaches

  • Stomach aches with no medical cause

  • Refusal to eat at school/work

  • Refusal to use the bathroom anywhere but at home

  • Restlessness, hyperactivity and distractibility

  • Shakes/tremors

  • Overactive sweat glands

  • Tense muscles

  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep

Emotional symptoms of anxiety may look like this:

  • Tearful, sensitive, angry

  • Worry about the future

  • Afraid at school drop-off times

  • Nightmares about losing close family members

Behavioural symptoms of anxiety may look like this:

  • Asks "What if....?"

  • Afraid to join in activities

  • Silence/withdrawal

  • Refusal to go to school

  • Avoid social situations

  • Seeking approval from others

  • Meltdowns and tantrums

  • "I can't...."

Taking NOTE with this handy tracker will help you determine what triggers anxiety during the day:

What can you do to help?

Conversations - children sometimes open up better while engaged in another activity such as colouring in, while playing, or even in the car. Use these non-threatening situations to talk about feelings and name them. By naming feelings children can learn to regulate and not overreact to situations. Help them understand that a little bit of discomfort is a natural part of our daily lives and that it does not pre-empt disaster.

Break big tasks or projects down for them. By cutting the elephant into bite-sized pieces one is able to meet smaller goals that ultimately build a sense of achievement and to completion of the final task will not feel like such an overwhelming chore.

Prepare them for change. Seek advice from others who have been in these situations, practice the social skills that may be needed in new situations, do a drive-by of new places. By being prepared we know what to expect and this will halve the anxiety as the change approaches.

Celebrate small wins! Acknowledge their day-to-day success to build confidence. If they know they can face these daily challenges they may be more inclined to believe they are capable of attempting new things.

Create a "CAN DO" mantra and stick this up on the bathroom wall where they brush their teeth. Every time they brush their teeth (hopefully twice a day at least) they can recite their mantra.... I am not afraid to try! or One step at a time!

Keep ritual and order in their immediate environment. Having a neat and organised space and a clear routine helps with knowing what to expect and minimises rushing around which also contributes to elevated anxiety.

Blow off steam! Breaks are important for maintaining mental health - play music, dance, do some vigorous exercise or yoga. Whatever activity you enjoy doing be sure to keep this going during stressful times.

Be clear about your expectations. "Just do your best" or "be more responsible" can be vague and overwhelming to children. Break down exactly what your expectations are for them - 60 for Math is ok; Please be home by 7pm etc. will lower the anxiety surrounding vague statements.

If you or your child are still having difficulty breaking anxious thought patterns Neurofeedback will bring about balance to the nervous system. By boosting calming Alpha rhythm and inhibiting the faster Beta frequencies associated with elevated anxiety one can establish balance and calm from the top down.

Once the brain in is a more regulated state it becomes easier to implement behavioural changes!

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