Expert gives advice on how to deal with anxiety in children

Psychotherapist Sarie Taylor / Photo Tom Pitfield Photography
Psychotherapist Sarie Taylor / Photo Tom Pitfield Photography -Credit:Sarie Taylor

Over recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of young people suffering mental health conditions including anxiety and depression.

It's perhaps most evident in schools, where attendance levels are down- and in the soaring waiting lists for children's mental health services.

For a lot of youngsters, their problems started during the pandemic - fear, isolation and loneliness just some of the factors that contributed to a decline in well-being.

Read more: Psychotherapist reveals what parents must consider before giving children a mobile phone

Manchester psychotherapist Sarie Taylor had her own struggles when she was younger. And it was her eventual understanding of the 'debilitating and overwhelming' condition that led to her deciding to train and help others.

Hospitalised and diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and depression in her early 20s, she'd 'tried every possible type of therapy', but would still have 'severe episodes of anxiety and overwhelm'.

With young people in particular being 'accessible 24/7 via mobile phones and social media', Sarie says they need to understand why it's so important to switch off
With young people in particular being 'accessible 24/7 via mobile phones and social media', Sarie says they need to understand why it's so important to switch off -Credit:Manchester Evening News

Looking back she says she 'misunderstood anxiety and how it works' and wants others to know how easy it is to 'overcomplicate things and create a vicious cycle'.

Sarie, who who has her own Perfectly Imperfect Mind Mentor business, said: "The flight or fight system that kicks in when we're overthinking and try and control what we can’t control, we send a message to our brain that we are in danger, even when we are not, and so the physical body responds by producing adrenaline," she said.

"This is when young people experience stomach ache, headaches, feeling sick and start to want to refuse to engage in parts of life that they attach to their worries. This is the system actually working exactly as it should, we just misuse it due to an innocent misunderstanding."

Sarie, who appeared on our Manchester Family Facebook page when she did a number of live sessions to help ease parents' worries during lockdown, added: "We live in a very fast paced world now, which can often encourage over stimulation and hypervigilance. This overstimulation and a tendency to overthink can create a vicious cycle where we can end up being anxious about getting anxious.

"The age of a young person can also have an impact in that psychological development shows that around age 10, children start to realise things about life and death that they can again overthink and worry about."

There has been a huge increase in the number of young people suffering mental health conditions including anxiety and depression
There has been a huge increase in the number of young people suffering mental health conditions including anxiety and depression -Credit:Getty Images/iStockphoto

With young people in particular being 'accessible 24/7, via mobile phones and social media', Sarie says this can also 'enhance that feeling of over stimulation'.

While acknowledging that social media and connection and contact with friends outside of school can be positive, she says it's important for young people - and adults too - to know when to switch off.

"It’s really more about developing self esteem and an ability for young people to quieten their minds and overthink less that will make the difference to their well-being," she said.

"Technology is not going anywhere, and it’s unlikely that life will slow any time soon, but we can certainly change our internal experience of our external world. When we are already feeling insecure and in a cycle of overthinking, we are much more likely to view social media and the world around us, comparing ourselves to others and rather than seeing what we do have or how wonderful we are, we can judge ourselves against standards we see from a tiny snapshot of someone else’s life.

"The key is to help our young people understand that if we are tired, or in a low state of mind, that we are more likely to look for negatives and that we always have a choice of when we use social media and when we don’t, again linking to their own self esteem and how secure they feel in themselves.

"Overall anxiety does seem to be on the rise partly as we do talk more openly, which is great, but also there is plenty to over stimulate us or for us to over analyse, but we need to learn how to understand how certain things affect us personally and, the more confident and content we are in ourselves, the better the choices we make on how we experience our external world.

"The same goes for us as parents, we live juggling a million and one things and can find ourselves stressed and overwhelmed too, feeding each other's fears and worries."

How can we support our young people day to day with anxiety?

"We can't take our children’s worries away, but we can support them from our own well-being, so that they feel reassured," said Sarie. "Listening is key. We often think we are good listeners, and often we are not. If we are truly listening, we listen with an open mind and not to problem solve. Easier said than done sometimes, when we want to fix everything for our children."

  • Help you to help them. Prioritise yourself at times so that you can remain calm and in your well-being during challenging times when they need support.

  • Point out their resilience. When they feel that they are not managing or coping, it's easy for us to get caught up and focus on that too, when there will be many times a day that they will show resilience and we can point that out to them as they may have lost sight of just how resilient they actually are.

  • Children need boundaries, and so, even if they are anxious and overwhelmed, boundaries are important and still need to be in place, consistent and firm, with love and compassion.

  • At night time our state of mind changes getting us ready for sleep, rest and recuperation but it can be helpful to know that with this can come some sticky thoughts that feel very believable and so you may find your child wants to discuss anxiety and problems just before they go to sleep. They will struggle potentially to be open minded at this time and so just be present with them and save the deep conversations for when they are not about to fall asleep. Suggest a story, audiobook or something to enable them to get in the moment and out of their heads.

  • Anxiety is a normal feeling like any other that we all experience, however, anxiety that feels debilitating and stops us from living the life we want and deserve, is not something we need to accept and just live with. With more understanding, comes less fear of our experience as humans, and therefore we no longer feed the vicious cycle.

For more from Sarie, visit Perfectly Imperfect Mind Mentor on Facebook, or follow her on Instagram here. To sign up to her three-day online 'Young People and Anxiety' mini course, see the website here.