This article is for your information only. It is not meant to give medical or psychological advice or to replace a visit with a medical provider. Please consult with a physician and a mental health professional on the topic.
How to Recognize and Reduce Anxiety
Life is uncertain and uncertainty breeds anxiety. One of the most important task parents can do for their children is to help them feel secure in the world that surrounds them. The security acquired during infancy, childhood and adolescence is what allows adults to deal with the inevitable ambiguity of living, in a healthy manner. Although ambiguity is unavoidable, it gets highlighted when wars, natural disasters or diseases hit the home.
What do you need to know as a parent when a horror like 9/11, wars, floods, AIDS or Ebola hit home via the computer or the TV screen?
Let’s take the case of Ebola to talk about how children or teens may react:
- Children and teens may feel worried and fearful about the recent news reporting Ebola.
- It is important acknowledge the topic to decrease children’s and teems’ anxiety. Will they catch it at school or in the street?
- Children and even teens may feel threatened when they hear reports about Ebola in the United States, especially if they do not understand clearly what an epidemic means or, if the the issue of location is unclear to them.
- Constant news may increase levels of fear, stress and anxiety. If they TV is constantly on, or the news streams in constantly via the computer, their exposure may be beyond what their brain can assimilate.
- It is important to educate our youth about the sources of news.
- Knowing the sources of the news may help you, as a parent; understand why your sons or daughters are anxious. Rumors and misinformation about a stressful event makes the event terrifying.
- Be sure you are receiving updates from a reliable news source so you are not misguided about the true risk and precautions available in your community. You can tailor the information for your children according to their age.
Common Reactions of Children and Teens
As we discussed before, uncertainty breeds anxiety. When the uncertainty is felt in the macro level of the community, everybody may feel unsafe or less safe. But, children and teens may feel the added stress of the cushion they generally rely upon –parents- removed. The feeling of their support system less sturdy plus uncertainty plus the uncertainty of the news may cause physical, emotional and mental reactions.
Children and teens may feel an array of feelings such as confusion, anger, guilt or even rage. If these feelings are pervasive or if they do not go away after a few weeks, parents are advised to consult with a professional.
Children and teens that are scared about the world that surrounds them feel unsafe. When they feel unsafe they may have the following symptoms:
- Feeling on edge and tense, nervous or irritable.
- Tiredness that goes beyond what is the normal for the activity level they put out.
- Feelings of exhaustion are a common complaint.
- Paradoxically, even if they are exhausted children and teens cannot sleep.
- Difficulty in sleeping in teens and children should be a red flag for parents.
- Children or teens may have difficulty or inability concentrating on tasks at school or home.
- Excessive emotionality can be a clue to parents that something is wrong: i.e. constant crying.
- Need to be left alone to the point of isolation may be another clue for parents.
Helpful Tips for Parents to consider
There are simple steps that can be taken to help your child or teen feel better and more secure in a world that feels bombarded by unpleasant news and therefore, all of a sudden, less safe.
- Take time to talk to your child or teen. Make sure you do not ‘just’ ‘talk to’ your child but also hear him out as well.
- Pay attention to what your teen says and what worries her.
- Calm his fears down in a realistic manner. Do not promise what you do not really know with certainty, i.e. that no one will die or that Ebola will be eradicated.
- Let your child know that adult professionals are doing the best to keep them safe.
- Make sure they know they can always ask questions.
Should you ask for Professional Help?
You should get trained professional help if talking with your family does not calm your teen or child down. You will know talking to your child or teen has not helped because your teen or child will display behaviors that will show you that she/he is past the point of being anxious. You may see the following behaviors.
- Inability to return to her normal routine.
- Thoughts of hurting himself or herself or others.
- Your teen continues to isolate and talks to no one.
- Grades suffer and go down.
- Use of alcohol, drugs.
- Friendships and social life are no longer important.
- Problems with eating.