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Tracey Maclay

Early childhood teacher, yoga teacher for children and adults, therapeutic massage therapist

Bachelor of Education (Preservice Early Childhood), Bachelor of Early Childhood. Assoc. Diploma of Social Science (Child Studies), Cert. 1V in Training and Assessment TAE40110, Angel Yoga for Kids Level 1 Teacher Training, Kids Yoga Certificate (Early Childhood, Primary & Teens) Being Yoga, Certificate of Level 1 Yoga Teacher, Currently studying Cert. 1V Massage

WELLBEING

Understanding Anxiety in Kids, and How Yoga Can Help

By Tracey Maclay

Posted  June 20 2017 | 0 Shares

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One in three children now have a formal diagnosis of anxiety in Australia. This is a worrying statistic, considering also that anxiety can contribute to other diseases and physical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, and an array of other mental and physical ailments.

Most of the children diagnosed have been found to have anxiety due to the pressures on them in the school system. I have always believed that in Australia, we send our children too early to school. I myself have done it! I sent my first and second child to school at four and a half with the kindergarten teacher’s advice that they were ready, only to find later that they, along with many other undiagnosed children with anxiety back 10 to 20 years ago, were struggling in a system they were not ready for. Later, I realised the best thing to do for my second child was to repeat grade 6 in a different school and catch up and start over to restore her faith in herself and lift her self-esteem so she could start learning again.

Read: How to lessen your kids’ homework anxiety 

However, each child is different, and what works for one may not work for the next. Research has shown that, like Sweden and other parts of Europe, where they start their children in school at around six or seven years of age, they actually have more high-achieving students and the lowest rates of learning disorders and school drop-outs. With these statistics, I find it hard to understand why we in Australia still put our children in school so early.

I understand that often, children have been in the same child-care environment since they were babies and they may need a different environment to start to thrive again with different stimuli, which is why I thought of a new idea of a ‘pre-pre prep’ environment as an option. As an option, the government can also support incentives for parents to stay home longer with their children from the start, with community supports to assist them in prep-readiness ideas for their own children. 

Neuroscientists have found that play is the central mechanism for children’s learning, particularly in early childhood. Despite the evidence, an extended period of high-quality, play-based preschool education in early childhood is still undervalued in Australia, England, and other Western societies.

Now back to the topic of anxiety.  What is anxiety?

– It is a normal response to a perceived threat.

– It is a physical, behavioural, and cognitive response in the body.

– Humans have it to protect us from danger and some stress is good for us, but when it is out of control, it can cause debilitating effects to an individual. 

– Some level of anxiety is good for us as it gives us energy and motivation to do our best and get things done. 

Children, adolescents, and adults alike can present with different physical and behavioural characteristics when dealing with anxiety. Some will be shy, clingy, withdrawn, teary when dealing with anxiety. Some children will present as oppositional, irritable, and aggressive. These behaviours can result in fear, avoidance of a situation, and sleep problems.

Read: Practicing mindfulness

Additional physical signs can be sweaty palms, feeling that your heart is racing, crying, feeling sick, and nausea. Cognitive responses can manifest as lack of attention, speaking fast, stutter, memory problems, and worrying. 

Development of anxiety can come from biological/genetic influences and general temperament, a stress or trauma that has occurred in a child’s life and/or environmental learning influences. In other words, we can role model positive responses to anxiety or negative ones. 

Changes in the teenage brain

Daniel Siegal (2016) talks about the teenage brain in his YouTube video from the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education. 

In teenagers, their seemingly hyper rational thinking is not just from their hormones. Remodeling of the brain is taking place, which sparks significant changes in their behaviour and how they feel.  On the downside, the increase in dopamine can make them feel moody and irrational; but on the up-side, they can be filled with passion and creative ideas. We have all seen the wonderful ideas brought forward by teen entrepreneurs!

These changes in the brain encourage them to move away from their peers and want to be with their friends more. This is a normal part of human evolution as teens begin to feel safety in association with other teens. This can spark an urgency in being accepted and liked by their peers, and an irrational response if feeling rejected. I had a peer in high school commit suicide and wrote a note to her parents stating that ‘without any friends, there was no point to living’. The ABS statistics reveal that the number of teenage girls who die by suicide has risen. In 2015, 56 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 ended their lives, up from 38 in 2014 (Ford, M. abc.net.au).

It’s important that we as mentors show compassion and empathy as teens go through this necessary phase of human development. We can encourage positive social engagement which teaches them connection in their relationships and in the community.

How yoga and mindfulness can help anxiety

Yoga is recommended as a complementary therapy for people with anxiety or eating disorders. Yoga reduces cortisol levels which is a stress hormone. Besides, ongoing practice can work at leveling out an ongoing mental health issue where cortisol has increased over time. Yoga helps to make participants more aware of their mind and body connection. As you move through postures and breathe, notice how you move and feel at the same time. Responding to feelings relating to anxiety and registering all sensations in the body are enhanced. It then becomes  ‘mindful meditation.’

Mindfulness practices and exercises can also help with anxiety, stress, pain, and illness. I read a lovely Chinese quote to explain mindfulness, which calls it ‘presence of heart.’  Compassion and mindfulness go together as the quality of mindfulness can bring feelings of gratitude and simplifies understanding ourselves. It is a core universal emotion and derives from an innate ability to want to care for our young with presence of mind. Mindfulness can serve to remind ourselves that we should be grateful for being here and make it a real presence of mind experience and trust this is where we ought to be in our journey. Spaciousness of awareness can be explained as compassion, as we open our awareness to the wider community and support each other and recognise we are all connected in some way in this world. ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) in yoga philosophy includes compassion (many other religions have a similar word for being kind to all living things).

In addition, yoga poses coupled with mindfulness and breathing practices assists children to take control of their ‘monkey mind’ and learn to be still for a moment.  The John Hopkins University (USA) found in a study that, ‘mindfulness meditation reduced the symptoms of anxiety to some degree across studies’, 2014, JAMA Internal Medicine. 

Five more actions for anxiety control for children and adolescents:

Tighten and release into different parts of their body.  Breath in as you tighten and squeeze your hands, shoulders, legs, stomach, feet and face, then breath out as you release.

Shake out your worries: stand on one foot and shake other leg out counting up to six or seven, then switch legs. Next, shake again alternative legs, but this time counting down from seven to one.

Pay attention to your thoughts and label them: ‘Is this my anxiety talking that is making my body feel the way it does?’ label those feelings then chose a strategy to deal with them.

– What are three things you are grateful for? In particular if teens, have trouble thinking of three good things then brainstorm with them to get them started.  Keep a journal of these each day.  Explain to children even when they are feeling worried they can still think of good things too and have more then one feeling at a time. 

A study found that adults that who practised being grateful showed more emotional support to others as a result of journaling gratitude. (University of California and University of Miami, R. Emmons Ph.D and M. McCullough). The University of Texas Health Science Centre found in another study that ‘a growing body of research shows gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.’

Read: Common causes of anxiety in children

So, practice gratitude with your children for a healthy heart, mind, and body, and in turn the world may become a kinder society overall for everyone.

Go for a ‘mindful’ walk.  Notice five things you can see, four things you can smell and three things you can touch or notice five things in different colours.  Next time take a camera and encourage child to take photos of the things they find. You could make a little, ‘mindfulness book’ of beautiful things to look at together or frame them for calming their minds in the bedroom.

We practice mindfulness in order to have contentment and calm in our lives. Positive role modelling in stress and anxiety control is so important as parents.

And, of course, don’t forget to calm your mind with some deep breathing. Remember also to think about what is the worse thing that could happen in any given situation and anything up from. That is a good thing, right? I tell my clients, young and old, that I know this is true, as I’ve dealt with anxiety taking over in my younger days, with embarrassing results, to say the least. However, I’m still here and can actually laugh about it now. Sometimes, sharing these stories with children is a good idea to so they know they are not alone and not abnormal, and maybe have a good belly laugh, too!

But on a more serious note, the rates of anxiety in young children, domestic violence involving children, suicide in teenagers, addiction to ‘screens’, and obesity in our nation, should be enough encouragement to do something and gift our children with repeated practices and strategies to support anxiety control.

Einstein: ‘Free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion’… for ourselves and others.

References:

Ford, M.  Australian suicide deaths rising among women and teenage girls, ABS figures show.  Updated, Sept. 29, 2016. Retrieved from abc.net.au on 5/01/17.

Daniel Siegal (2016)  Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education.  Retrieved, 4/01/17.

Professor Jon Kabat – Zinn, Founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care.

Waters, L. Sept -November 2014, ‘Yoga for eating issues: anecdotes and evidence’, Australian Yoga Life.

Whitebread, D. 2014, ‘Hard Evidence: at what age are children ready for school’. The Conversation.com

Help

Lifeline on 131114

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

Headspace on 1800 650 890

(Tracey holds a Bach. Of Early Childhood, Bach. Of Education, Yoga cert and kid’s yoga training.  She offers yoga for anxiety in children and other public and private classes and workshops, as well as massage therapy. Visit Yogamotorkills.com, f: yogamotorskills, Pinterest: Yogamotorskills and kidscreativeblog.)

Reviewed by Tracey Maclay 20 June 2017 references
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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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Understanding Anxiety in Kids, and How Yoga Can Help

WELLBEING

By Tracey Maclay

One in three children now have a formal diagnosis of anxiety in Australia. This is a worrying statistic, considering also that anxiety can contribute to other diseases and physical conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, and an array of other mental and physical ailments.

Most of the children diagnosed have been found to have anxiety due to the pressures on them in the school system. I have always believed that in Australia, we send our children too early to school. I myself have done it! I sent my first and second child to school at four and a half with the kindergarten teacher’s advice that they were ready, only to find later that they, along with many other undiagnosed children with anxiety back 10 to 20 years ago, were struggling in a system they were not ready for. Later, I realised the best thing to do for my second child was to repeat grade 6 in a different school and catch up and start over to restore her faith in herself and lift her self-esteem so she could start learning again.

Read: How to lessen your kids’ homework anxiety 

However, each child is different, and what works for one may not work for the next. Research has shown that, like Sweden and other parts of Europe, where they start their children in school at around six or seven years of age, they actually have more high-achieving students and the lowest rates of learning disorders and school drop-outs. With these statistics, I find it hard to understand why we in Australia still put our children in school so early.

I understand that often, children have been in the same child-care environment since they were babies and they may need a different environment to start to thrive again with different stimuli, which is why I thought of a new idea of a ‘pre-pre prep’ environment as an option. As an option, the government can also support incentives for parents to stay home longer with their children from the start, with community supports to assist them in prep-readiness ideas for their own children. 

Neuroscientists have found that play is the central mechanism for children’s learning, particularly in early childhood. Despite the evidence, an extended period of high-quality, play-based preschool education in early childhood is still undervalued in Australia, England, and other Western societies.

Now back to the topic of anxiety.  What is anxiety?

– It is a normal response to a perceived threat.

– It is a physical, behavioural, and cognitive response in the body.

– Humans have it to protect us from danger and some stress is good for us, but when it is out of control, it can cause debilitating effects to an individual. 

– Some level of anxiety is good for us as it gives us energy and motivation to do our best and get things done. 

Children, adolescents, and adults alike can present with different physical and behavioural characteristics when dealing with anxiety. Some will be shy, clingy, withdrawn, teary when dealing with anxiety. Some children will present as oppositional, irritable, and aggressive. These behaviours can result in fear, avoidance of a situation, and sleep problems.

Read: Practicing mindfulness

Additional physical signs can be sweaty palms, feeling that your heart is racing, crying, feeling sick, and nausea. Cognitive responses can manifest as lack of attention, speaking fast, stutter, memory problems, and worrying. 

Development of anxiety can come from biological/genetic influences and general temperament, a stress or trauma that has occurred in a child’s life and/or environmental learning influences. In other words, we can role model positive responses to anxiety or negative ones. 

Changes in the teenage brain

Daniel Siegal (2016) talks about the teenage brain in his YouTube video from the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education. 

In teenagers, their seemingly hyper rational thinking is not just from their hormones. Remodeling of the brain is taking place, which sparks significant changes in their behaviour and how they feel.  On the downside, the increase in dopamine can make them feel moody and irrational; but on the up-side, they can be filled with passion and creative ideas. We have all seen the wonderful ideas brought forward by teen entrepreneurs!

These changes in the brain encourage them to move away from their peers and want to be with their friends more. This is a normal part of human evolution as teens begin to feel safety in association with other teens. This can spark an urgency in being accepted and liked by their peers, and an irrational response if feeling rejected. I had a peer in high school commit suicide and wrote a note to her parents stating that ‘without any friends, there was no point to living’. The ABS statistics reveal that the number of teenage girls who die by suicide has risen. In 2015, 56 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 ended their lives, up from 38 in 2014 (Ford, M. abc.net.au).

It’s important that we as mentors show compassion and empathy as teens go through this necessary phase of human development. We can encourage positive social engagement which teaches them connection in their relationships and in the community.

How yoga and mindfulness can help anxiety

Yoga is recommended as a complementary therapy for people with anxiety or eating disorders. Yoga reduces cortisol levels which is a stress hormone. Besides, ongoing practice can work at leveling out an ongoing mental health issue where cortisol has increased over time. Yoga helps to make participants more aware of their mind and body connection. As you move through postures and breathe, notice how you move and feel at the same time. Responding to feelings relating to anxiety and registering all sensations in the body are enhanced. It then becomes  ‘mindful meditation.’

Mindfulness practices and exercises can also help with anxiety, stress, pain, and illness. I read a lovely Chinese quote to explain mindfulness, which calls it ‘presence of heart.’  Compassion and mindfulness go together as the quality of mindfulness can bring feelings of gratitude and simplifies understanding ourselves. It is a core universal emotion and derives from an innate ability to want to care for our young with presence of mind. Mindfulness can serve to remind ourselves that we should be grateful for being here and make it a real presence of mind experience and trust this is where we ought to be in our journey. Spaciousness of awareness can be explained as compassion, as we open our awareness to the wider community and support each other and recognise we are all connected in some way in this world. ‘Ahimsa’ (non-violence) in yoga philosophy includes compassion (many other religions have a similar word for being kind to all living things).

In addition, yoga poses coupled with mindfulness and breathing practices assists children to take control of their ‘monkey mind’ and learn to be still for a moment.  The John Hopkins University (USA) found in a study that, ‘mindfulness meditation reduced the symptoms of anxiety to some degree across studies’, 2014, JAMA Internal Medicine. 

Five more actions for anxiety control for children and adolescents:

Tighten and release into different parts of their body.  Breath in as you tighten and squeeze your hands, shoulders, legs, stomach, feet and face, then breath out as you release.

Shake out your worries: stand on one foot and shake other leg out counting up to six or seven, then switch legs. Next, shake again alternative legs, but this time counting down from seven to one.

Pay attention to your thoughts and label them: ‘Is this my anxiety talking that is making my body feel the way it does?’ label those feelings then chose a strategy to deal with them.

– What are three things you are grateful for? In particular if teens, have trouble thinking of three good things then brainstorm with them to get them started.  Keep a journal of these each day.  Explain to children even when they are feeling worried they can still think of good things too and have more then one feeling at a time. 

A study found that adults that who practised being grateful showed more emotional support to others as a result of journaling gratitude. (University of California and University of Miami, R. Emmons Ph.D and M. McCullough). The University of Texas Health Science Centre found in another study that ‘a growing body of research shows gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.’

Read: Common causes of anxiety in children

So, practice gratitude with your children for a healthy heart, mind, and body, and in turn the world may become a kinder society overall for everyone.

Go for a ‘mindful’ walk.  Notice five things you can see, four things you can smell and three things you can touch or notice five things in different colours.  Next time take a camera and encourage child to take photos of the things they find. You could make a little, ‘mindfulness book’ of beautiful things to look at together or frame them for calming their minds in the bedroom.

We practice mindfulness in order to have contentment and calm in our lives. Positive role modelling in stress and anxiety control is so important as parents.

And, of course, don’t forget to calm your mind with some deep breathing. Remember also to think about what is the worse thing that could happen in any given situation and anything up from. That is a good thing, right? I tell my clients, young and old, that I know this is true, as I’ve dealt with anxiety taking over in my younger days, with embarrassing results, to say the least. However, I’m still here and can actually laugh about it now. Sometimes, sharing these stories with children is a good idea to so they know they are not alone and not abnormal, and maybe have a good belly laugh, too!

But on a more serious note, the rates of anxiety in young children, domestic violence involving children, suicide in teenagers, addiction to ‘screens’, and obesity in our nation, should be enough encouragement to do something and gift our children with repeated practices and strategies to support anxiety control.

Einstein: ‘Free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion’… for ourselves and others.

References:

Ford, M.  Australian suicide deaths rising among women and teenage girls, ABS figures show.  Updated, Sept. 29, 2016. Retrieved from abc.net.au on 5/01/17.

Daniel Siegal (2016)  Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education.  Retrieved, 4/01/17.

Professor Jon Kabat – Zinn, Founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the centre for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care.

Waters, L. Sept -November 2014, ‘Yoga for eating issues: anecdotes and evidence’, Australian Yoga Life.

Whitebread, D. 2014, ‘Hard Evidence: at what age are children ready for school’. The Conversation.com

Help

Lifeline on 131114

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

Headspace on 1800 650 890

(Tracey holds a Bach. Of Early Childhood, Bach. Of Education, Yoga cert and kid’s yoga training.  She offers yoga for anxiety in children and other public and private classes and workshops, as well as massage therapy. Visit Yogamotorkills.com, f: yogamotorskills, Pinterest: Yogamotorskills and kidscreativeblog.)

Reviewed by Lisa Kelly 20 June 2017
references
  • current version

  • PEER REVIEWER

  • Doc id

  • next review

This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

make a comment

0 comments

more articles by Tracey Maclay

view more

latest articles

view more

MEET THE EXPERTS

view more