We often think of anxiety as an “adult” problem. Between balancing work, your relationship, and taking care of yourself and your possessions, most adults learn to juggle multiple sources of anxiety because stressors are a natural part of life. However, children also experience anxiety, and on top of that, they aren’t experienced in managing it the way adults are. Add onto that a medical complexity, and your child may be having a hard time navigating the amount and depth of their emotions. Unfortunately, anxiety has a way of spreading, so you may be feeling quite worried about your child’s worries. That being said, you don’t have to let anxiety run either of your lives. The key is to equip them with the tools they need to regulate their emotions so, in the face of doctor’s appointments, new treatments, and scary symptoms, they can cope.
Signs of Anxiety in Children
It’s normal for everyone to experience anxiety from time to time, and it probably doesn’t surprise you that children who have had to undergo many uncomfortable medical examinations and procedures in their lives feel anxiety around these events. You might notice your child showing these signs of anxiety around the time of doctor’s appointments or physical therapy sessions.
- Screaming and yelling
- Trying to avoid the doctor
- Temper tantrums
- Red face
- Heavy breathing
- Increased heart rate
When Anxiety Becomes a Disorder
Having an anxious response to medical treatment is totally normal, and you can expect your child to exhibit some of the signs above at least occasionally. If the anxiety your child experiences surrounds these events only and they can otherwise put their worries aside, it is a normal amount of worry. However, it’s also possible for children to develop anxiety disorders, and if this is the case for your child, you want to make sure they are getting the care they need. Anxiety disorders children can be diagnosed with include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder. This particular disorder refers to when children worry more than most about all sorts of areas of their life. For medically fragile children, it goes beyond worry about their condition or seeing their doctor; they worry about you, your other family members, their school work, and the future in general. They are always going to the worst case scenario and they often feel overwhelmed. They might also experience physical symptoms such as stomach aches, fatigue, headaches, and muscle tension.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is characterized by two things: obsessions (preoccupying thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive actions aimed to relieve anxiety). Your child might always worry about you being harmed, whether or not the stove or oven is off, being exposed to any germs, or an intruder breaking in. They may be excessively preoccupied with symmetry and order and show an unreasonable attention to detail. They may also demonstrate compulsive behavior such as excess handwashing, repeated actions such as obsessively checking if the door is locked, counting and recounting, and following a rigid set of self-imposed rules.
- Social anxiety. If your child has social anxiety, they might feel excessively worried about social situations. For some children, this manifests in selective mutism, where they cannot speak because they are too fearful to be around people.
- Panic attacks. Panic attacks appear to occur for no reason at all. A child having a panic attack will suddenly have physical symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, numbness, increased heart rate, and tingling sensation.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People develop PTSD after a past traumatic experience. Medically fragile children, in particular, may experience PTSD after a traumatic medical procedure. Symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, excessive fear, and avoidance of the traumatic event.
Though there is no known cause of anxiety disorders, research suggests a variety of factors play a role, including genetics, brain chemistry, and stressful life experiences. If you believe that your child’s anxiety goes above and beyond what could be expected from their situation, it’s important to get them in front of a mental health professional. Talk to their doctor or pediatric home health care provider for a referral.
Easing Anxiety in Medically Fragile Children
Even if you suspect that your child might have an anxiety disorder, it’s important to reassure them that it is normal to experience anxiety. There is no need to make them worry about their worrying! Validate their feelings, but also empower them with the skills they need to cope with anxiety. Here are some tips for helping to manage the anxiety around medical treatments.
- Let them know that you can completely understand that certain procedures are uncomfortable and they are feeling anxious about having it done again. That being said. Explain that just because something gives you anxiety, doesn’t mean that it is an option to skip it. It might help to explain exactly how this procedure helps their condition.
- Teach them breathing techniques that can help calm them in these moments. For example, teach them to breathe in for four seconds, hold their breath for four seconds, then breathe out for four seconds. These techniques can help your child learn to self-soothe.
- Be mindful of your own behavior. Children are highly perceptive, and if they notice you being anxious, that will make them anxious as well. Even if you do feel worried, do your best to not reveal it through your body language and to have a calm demeanor.
- Distract them with other things as you wait for appointments, whether it is a favorite book, TV show, or game. Often times, it is the anticipation that causes anxiety, so distraction allows them to not fester in their worries.
- Don’t avoid the topic. If you know that doctor’s appointments make your child anxious, you might be tempted to avoid talking to them about it all together. This only reinforces the fear in your child, validating the fact that it is scary and should be avoided.
It is always difficult to see your child suffer, but anxiety is manageable with the right tools and support. If you are looking for pediatric home health care in Denver, contact Evergreen Home Healthcare for assistance today.