Common Physical Symptoms
that Co
uld Indicate Anxiety
(in Children & Teens)

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 20% of children will experience a mental health issue.

And roughly 70% of all mental health issues have their onset before the age of 18.

So, it's essential to identify and treat these issues as soon as possible.

Knowing what symptoms to watch for is essential, as there are a few physical symptoms that are often indicative of a mental health issue.

Callaghan et al. (2019), in the Journal of Development and Psychopathology, found that children who experienced mental health issues were more likely to suffer from constipation, stomachaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Further, the researchers noted that stomach issues are often a red flag for experiencing issues with depression and anxiety in the future.

They also found that the study participants who experienced stomach problems showed abnormal activity in the parts of the brain that process emotions when they underwent brain scans.

Needless to say, if your child experiences stomach problems, it's essential to monitor not only the physical symptoms but also any potential mental health issues such as anxiety or depression.

Take-Home Message

In the past several years, there has been interesting research indicating that bacteria in the intestine might be contributing to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

As such, there has been growing research using probiotics to help stabilize bacteria in the gut and serve as a component of mental health treatment.

If you are interested in having your child or teen try a Probiotic, I encourage you to talk to your family physician, Pediatrician or Naturopath about the potential benefits of taking a Probiotic.

3 Strategies to Improve Anxiety

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue that children face.

Approximately 50% of parents in Ontario have reported being concerned about their child's level of anxiety. And nearly one-third of parents say that their child had missed school because of anxiety.

That’s significant!

So, let’s take a look at a few strategies to help support your child or teen if they experience anxiety.

1. Show Love and Care

If your child feels anxious or threatened in any way, showing your love and support will likely do far more than you think.

Norman et al. (2104), in the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, conducted a study in which they showed study participants pictures of people being loved and cared for before they were shown threatening images that would typically cause a strong response in the amygdala (a critical area in the brain for processing emotion and fear).  

Results showed that reminders of being loved and cared for reduced the brain’s response to being threatened, which lowered feelings of anxiety.

And for the particularly anxious study participants, the pictures of love and support were especially effective.

So, whenever your child is feeling anxious, remember to show love and support in a way they find comforting.

Also, recent studies show that hugs can be a helpful way to improve mood and lower anxiety, so I encourage you to consider making hugs a regular part of your daily routine with your child or teen.

2. Label Anxious Feelings

Children are often uncomfortable talking about anxiety, which can make it more challenging to label their feelings and describe them.

However, it can be a surprisingly helpful way to cope with anxiety.

Kircanski et al. (2012), in the Journal of Psychological Science, conducted a study where people with a fear of spiders attempted to manage their anxiety by using strategies such as distraction and reappraisal (i.e., thinking about anxiety differently) and labelling feelings.

Results showed that the study participants who used accurate fear-based words to describe their feelings experienced the most significant reduction in anxiety.

On the surface, this appears to be a surprising finding, as the focus when treating feelings of anxiety is typically to try to reduce these feelings.

However, labelling your feelings correctly appears to be an essential first step in reducing feelings of anxiety before utilizing other strategies.

3. Use Reframing

One of the main challenges with anxiety is that we often exaggerate potential threats.

Or said another way, we make problems more significant than they deserve to be.

Llewellyn et al. (2013), in the Journal of Emotion, conducted a study in which they found that thinking about situations differently, also known as reframing, helps people to feel less anxious in stressful situations.

For instance, if your child is feeling anxious about being in a new social situation, they could focus on thoughts such as:

“It’s an opportunity to play in a new area.”

“I could meet some new kids.”

“I see other kids all the time at school. I can do this.”

And one final, and very important note from this study, it was found that suppression (i.e., attempting to push away and ignore anxious feelings) wasn't an effective way to deal with anxiety.

And for most of us, avoidance is a natural response.

So, above all, just by introducing your child to anxiety management strategies and having them begin to incorporate these strategies at a young age, they are off to a great start in learning how to manage their mental health.

Do you notice physical signs of anxiety with your child?

What strategies do you find effective?

Join the conversation on Facebook!

Article by

Trevor Sullivan, MA, RP

Registered Psychotherapist

September 2, 2020