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Anxiety in childhood – natural treatment perspectives

It’s normal to feel some nervousness before the first day of school and to cry or be upset the first few days at that new school – but what if it is an ongoing persistent struggle for the child to be separate from the parent?  Perhaps it may even exist within the home, where they need to be with you at all times or to fear or delay going to sleep each night?  It’s also normal for a child to express some worry about upsetting world events or the news of the death of an aged family member – but what if this worry permeates several areas of the child’s regular daily life (eg: daily worry about what to wear, being on time, the safety and wellbeing of several family members)?  These are two examples of how nervousness and worry can extend into persistent thoughts that can impact the child’s daily behaviour and bodily symptoms.  Other situations may involve social anxiety or specific phobias or panic.

Signs of childhood anxiety

  • Mental thoughts – worries about something bad happening (eg: what if Dad doesn’t pick me up from school?, what if my cousins laugh at me?)
  • Bodily symptoms – pounding heart, sweating, ‘butterflies’ in stomach, headaches, dizziness
  • Behaviour – avoiding situations or people or objects, regularly looking for reassurance/comfort, tantrums, crying, fighting

When to seek help for your child’s mental health

If the symptoms are developmental-age appropriate and they are not persistent then it can be quite normal.  However, when the signs and symptoms persists beyond what is reasonable, or the intensity increases, or the level of distress to the child is quite obvious so that it gets in the way of how they function, then it’s time to seek a professionals opinion and treatment as necessary.

Childhood Anxiety Treatment options

Several options exist.  Common conventional care can help and includes lifestyle change, counseling and psychotherapy and psychiatric medications.  Increasingly, parents are seeking naturopathic nature-based solutions for the childhood anxiety which can be very effective on it’s own or in combination as necessary.  For example, common naturopathic strategies include dietary and nutritional treatment, homeopathy and herbal medicines and approaches to encourage self-regulation and mindfulness.

Nutrition and anxiety in children

There’s no doubt that diet can play a role in anxiety.  Depending on the foods consumed, your brain biochemistry changes.  Sometimes food itself is used as a way to self-soothe, common examples are with sweets or ‘favourite foods.’  Some of this may actually affect the dopamine or serotonin levels in the brain that can then influence behaviour and lead to persisting habits or attitudes.  Take the minerals “magnesium”  and “zinc” for example.  Both are used for hundreds of different reactions in the brain (including for producing dopamine and serotonin) and body and when it is low, it is associated with behaviour change in children.  Another important factor that can affect nutrient levels is if there is a problem with the proper digestion of food, or proper absorption of it.  For instance, those with gluten intolerance may have dysfunctional absorption of zinc, vitamin B12, magnesium, etc.  Those who do not make sufficient digestive fluids (which I commonly see in my practice) will also have problems absorbing iron in addition to vitamin B12 or zinc.  Also, another important factor to assess is whether your child has low blood glucose levels, as this can trigger symptoms consistent with anxiety.  A more wide-ranging dietary and nutritional perspective may be most useful…for example, a case study was published in 2012 from the University of Calgary department of psychiatry, describing an 11 year old child who first showed signs of anxiety, followed by a period of worsening, leading to outright psychosis.  The case describes the medications prescribed and how broad-based multinutrient treatment helped resolve and dramatically improve the situation where the medications were able to be weaned off and removed.

Homeopathy and anxiety in children

Homeopathy is a gentle, yet deep acting approach to helping a variety of childhood problems.  It is under-utilized and inadequately studied but it can be quite powerful in treating not only the main presenting complaint, but often improving other aspects of health.  A 2008 German study performed follow up assessments of the usefulness of homeopathy from the patients perspective (including parent perspectives on their children’s health) after 8 years of treatment of a variety of chronic illnesses; it concludes that there is approximately 75-82% satisfaction on both physical and mental health.  Several specific homeopathic medicines can address the state of anxiety, nervousness and fearfulness – some examples include: lycopodium (eg: fears about conflict and physical interactions), silica (eg: anxiety from noises, being overly conscientious about small details), calcium carbonate (eg: fears about health), etc.  The proper selection of the correct homeopathic medicine involves learning about the child’s temperament, likes, fears and sensitivities overall.

Herbs and anxiety in children

Several herbs can be helpful in reducing nervousness in children.  Several that have been used safely in children include ashwagandha, valerian, St. John’s wort, passionflower, chamomile, catnip, etc.  A German study using a concentrated herbal combination for children with ‘nervous agitation’ found that 97% tolerated it well and showed over 80% improvement in most of the symptoms, particularly school anxieties, sleeping problems and depression.  I have found that specifically selected and individually dosed herbal medicines can make a significant impact on aspects of childhood mental health.  Sometimes we use essential oils such as lavender, frankincense, or rose; other times I recommend a diluted herbal preparation known as ‘Bach Flower’ extracts.

Other factors to address or rule-out:

To have a comprehensive approach to your child’s anxiety where we look to address the causes and provide a range of treatment options, contact the clinic to arrange a naturopathic assessment – 905-597-7201.

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