By Dr. Olisa Mak
Signs that your Child is Anxious
Why We Need to Address Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is often a normal part of childhood and is crucial as a protective mechanism. It protects a child as they contemplate whether or not they should jump out a second floor window. Problems arise, however; when anxieties become overpowering and hold them back, much like anxieties hold people back during adulthood.
Childhood anxiety is a sign that a child’s basic needs are not being met, that they are not feeling heard, safe, or accepted. Initially, the child displays signs of anxiety that can be identified but when unaddressed, the body compensates, repackaging the anxiety into a behaviour that is more socially acceptable. Overtime, the anxious child becomes an an anxious adult. Adult anxiety is most difficult to treat when they developed during childhood. The adult mind is extremely skilled at hiding its anxieties. Imagine putting your deepest fears and anxieties in a box and then putting that box in a larger box and putting that box in an even larger box, and so on. Each additional box that we add represents how we modify and censor our behaviours, and build barriers around ourselves, all to hide some part of ourselves that we don’t like and to fit ourselves within this range of what’s socially acceptable. We do this, all to feel safe, accepted and to belong.
When an anxious child becomes an anxious adult, the mind has had so much time to hide the anxiety that the adult often isn’t even aware of the anxiety and if they are, they don’t know where it’s coming from. As an adult, dealing with anxiety requires opening each box and bravely exploring its contents. It requires identifying and changing unique patterns of thinking, that have been engrained in our brain. Until each and every box and insecurity has been explored, anxiety will always find its way back. Adult anxiety ultimately stems from childhood anxiety and like anything else, it’s always easier to deal with something early on. Children have not had time to put boxes within boxes, their anxiety is authentic and unpackaged and much easier to deal with.
According to Statistics Canada, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 3% of Canadians, affecting people’s ability to lead happy, fulfilling lives. GAD can lead to more serious mental disorders including depression as well as physical signs of stress such as muscle tension and back pain. Addressing anxiety in children leads to happier, more productive and overall healthier adults.
The difficulty with childhood anxiety is that kids don’t necessarily know that they’re anxious. They are not going to overtly tell you that they’re anxious and as a parent, it’s important to be conscientious of early signs of anxiety and to properly address the anxiety. Every summer my niece and nephew are enrolled in classes at the community centre. My nephew recently said that he doesn’t want to attend classes because the teacher will tell him things that he doesn’t want to hear. It’s important to explore what sort of things he’s scared of hearing and to help him understand that he’s not always going to hear what he wants hear. It’s even more important to model for children how to deal with situations they are uncomfortable with.
How to Deal with Childhood Anxiety
Having struggled with my own anxieties as a child, I am comforted to see a lot of online articles discussing how anxiety in children should be addressed.
Explain that everyone feels anxious and that what they are feeling is completely normal and that the feeling will pass. Guide your child in understanding their emotions, how their body reacts in various situations and how they can control their reactions and emotions. By modelling ways to deal with anxiety and providing your child with a safe space and outlet to express what they’re feeling, you’re empowering your child, and encouraging them to be in control of their feelings. Help your child be introspective and to develop self awareness. This is a skill that will help them even as adults as they encounter unexpected stresses and difficulties.
Great Articles on How to Help Anxiety in Your Child:
Building Emotional Intelligence: What to Say to Children When They Are Anxious - Posted by Hey Sigmund
Anxiety in Children: How Parents Can Help - Posted by Kathy Eugster
My Own Story
For much of my life, I’ve had to deal with anxiety, in the form of nail biting. If you were to ask me 10 years ago if I suffered from anxiety, I’d tell you no. I didn’t know I suffered from anxiety. I was just a nail biter. From years of introspection and developing a greater level of self awareness, I now know that my nail biting was a coping mechanism I developed as a way of soothing my anxiety. The moment I feel anxious, my brain automatically signals to my body to bring my fingers up to my mouth and to start biting.
Over the years, a particular childhood memory has always stood out in my mind. Around the age of 6, I asked my mom to cut my nails because they were getting too long. My mom was busy and told me she didn’t have time. Out of frustration, I told my mom that I would take care of it myself and then was born my nail biting. My nail biting habit has persisted for 23 years now and I’m slowly finding more positive ways to soothe my anxiety like exercising.
by Dr. Olisa Mak
I have a guilty pleasure too. I love coffee, the smell of it, the bitter taste of it. Nothing wakes me up on a day off more than a fresh cup of dark roast coffee. I usually drink anywhere from 2-4 cups of coffee a week, but never more than one a day. Yesterday, I drank two cups of coffee, a latte that was quite strong and a dark roast two hours apart. The effect? A coffee overdose. For the rest of the day, I was restless, experienced chest pains, had chattering teeth, hands that were shaking, a headache and was unable to sleep. I was buzzed and overly stimulated. It wasn’t until 5am in the morning, roughly 14 hours after my second cup of coffee that I stopped feeling the buzz. Although, this morning, I woke up feeling completely hungover like I had a night out drinking.
Although most people do not experience such an extreme reaction, it isn’t uncommon to hear people say that they can’t handle coffee, that they feel “jittery”. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who simply do not feel anything after drinking coffee.
So what does all of that mean? Why do some people, like myself, have such extreme reactions to coffee whereas some people feel nothing?
First we have to understand how coffee is metabolized in the body. When we drink coffee, it reaches our digestive tract where the coffee is modified and individual chemical constituents of coffee are absorbed by our small intestines. Once in the small intestines, the various chemical compounds found in coffee are absorbed and circulate throughout the bloodstream and reach the liver and other organs.
The liver metabolizes coffee in a stepwise manner and in each step, the compounds are chemically modified to become more and more water-soluble, to ensure proper elimination by the kidneys and bowels. There are two general steps in the liver detoxification process - Phase 1 and Phase 2. When you’re overly sensitive to coffee, your phase 1 is sluggish whereas if you don’t feel anything from coffee, your Phase 1 is too active.
So how can you bring these two steps back into balance? If you’re overly sensitive to coffee, you need to give your Phase 1 a boost. Phase 1 relies mainly on B vitamins (amongst other nutrients) whereas Phase 2 mainly relies on amino acids from protein sources like good quality meats. A diet abundant in colourful fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins is key. There are also supplements that have been especially formulated to support liver function when changing your diet isn’t enough. Certain foods, especially cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts, are also great for giving Phase 1 a boost. If your Phase 1 is overactive and you don’t feel anything from coffee, then you need to slow down Phase 1 and herbs such as Calendula officinalis or spices such as turmeric are great.
Other than feeling “jittery” after drinking coffee, why is it important to correct an imbalance between Phase 1 and Phase 2? At the end of Phase 1, reactive oxygen species are produced. If Phase 1 is overactive or faster than Phase 2 pathway, you ultimately get an accumulation of reactive oxygen species because your Phase 2 just can’t keep up with Phase 1. Reactive oxygen species are chemically reactive molecules known to cause inflammation and damage throughout the body, including cellular DNA damage. Reactive oxygen species or high oxidative stress have been implicated in chronic conditions including cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis and aging, Having signs of an imbalance between Phase 1 and Phase 2 has long term consequences and should be addressed.
Figure 1. Your liver and Phase 1 and Phase 2.
Although the body naturally produces reactive oxygen species, the body has protective mechanisms in place to protect itself. By eating a diet rich in antioxidants such vitamin C, zinc and thiols which can be found in garlic, onions and cruciferous vegetables, the body neutralizes these harmful, reactive oxygen species.
The balance between Phase 1 and Phase 2 is important to understand as it plays a key role in the metabolism of everything that our bodies comes into contact with - not just coffee but alcohol, medications, supplements, pesticides on our foods, even chemicals we absorb through our skin from personal health care products. The rate at which Phase 1 and Phase 2 function ultimately defines how well our liver protects us from everything that we are exposed to. The chronic illnesses associated with high oxidative stress or reactive oxygen species may not appear right away but ultimately affect our ability to live healthy and happy lives. Love your liver by eating a well-balanced, organic diet, rich in antioxidants and nutrients.
My ordeal from drinking only two cups of coffee brought to my attention the imbalance between my liver’s Phase 1 and Phase 2. I too, will examine my diet and find a way to improve my liver’s functioning. Will you?
If you’re concerned about your liver function, book an appointment (https://inspirit.janeapp.com/) to see how your liver function can be improved. Make better, more informed, decisions about their health. Come in for an appointment and get started with an individualized treatment plan just for you.
About Dr. Olisa Mak
I am a licensed Naturopathic Physician at Inspirit Health Group in Yaletown, Downtown Vancouver. Although I have a general family practice and treat a wide variety of conditions I have a special interest with stress, anxiety and brain health.
I am driven to educate, inspire and empower those around me. I believe that everyone has the potential to achieve their dreams and goals but are often unable to because of their fears, perceptions and circumstances.I strive to work with my patients to remove barriers, empowering patients to seize opportunities and to make the life they want a reality.
During my free time, I exercise and enjoy reading and being outdoors.