Anxiety attacks in children: Is your child at risk?
As we enter the exam period, how do you know if your child is able to cope with the added pressure or if he is heading towards an anxiety attack? Here is what you should know about anxiety attacks in children.
Exam season is here and a lot of children in Singapore are feeling some stress from academic anxiety, parents’ expectations, peer pressure and family problems.
So is all the added pressure pushing your child to the brink of an anxiety attack? Can children even have anxiety attacks? What are the warning signs to watch out for? And how can can we, as parents, help our children through it? Read this article to find out.
Can children have anxiety attacks?
It is perfectly natural for children to feel nervous or anxious about changes in their life such as starting a new school, moving to a new home, or making new friends or exams.
Children of different age groups tend to experience different kinds of anxiety such as:
Fairly common in younger children, separation anxiety develops when they are around six months old and they feel this way because they are still learning to be fully independent and self-reliant so become anxious if separated from their parent or primary care-giver.
Being shy is normal for children and teenagers, but having social anxiety makes it difficult for them to go out in public, make friends or even participate in various activities. This condition may arise in children who have gone through puberty.
Your child may sometimes complain and grumble about going to school – which is pretty normal for most children – but if it gets to the point where they are crying, appear to be extremely tired in the mornings, and constantly complain about tummy aches and pains, then they may have more than just a bad case of nerves.
If your child’s anxiety gets to a point where it affects his behaviour and ability to properly function on a daily basis, then this may be a red flag that you need to look out for.
What are the triggers?
There are different factors that contribute to an anxiety attack in children, which include:
If a child has poor nutrition and consumes a lot of junk food, processed food, sugar and caffeinated beverages, it could actually increase stress and even possibly cause depression.
Lack of exercise
Regular physical activity and adequate exposure to sunlight can help with overall stress management. Children should be encouraged to participate in a sport or activity of their choice so they can get some exercise while doing something they enjoy.
Sleep loss is detrimental to your child’s health, emotions, memory and academic success. Ensuring that your child gets a good night’s sleep is important for him or her verbal creativity, performance in school, ability to concentrate better and problem-solving skills.
Children in Singapore experience a tremendous amount of exam-related stress and the high expectations they have for themselves coupled with their parents’ demand for perfection can cause their anxiety levels to spike.
A child needs to grow up in a stable home environment in order to thrive in school and in life. If parents are constantly fighting in front of them, it can affect their psychological health and even cause trauma.
Certain life events such as a loss of a loved one, getting a physical injury, a car accident, the discovery of an illness, any form of abuse, or even having to undergo surgery can contribute to anxiety.
How to recognise it
It’s normal to feel nervous or anxious from time to time, but if your child seems to constantly be on edge then they might have an anxiety disorder or be heading for an anxiety attack.
The signs you should look out for include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Intense fear
- Excessive worrying
- Pounding heart or palpitations
- Dizziness or light headedness
- Sense of helplessness
- Repeated negative thoughts
- Increased muscle tension or muscle aches
- Choking sensation
What impact will it have on your child?
An anxiety attack shares similar symptoms to a heart attack so can be a very frightening ordeal for anybody experiencing it and can attack people of all ages including children and teenagers.
Anxiety triggers a person’s fight-or-flight response where there is a sudden release of chemicals and hormones such as adrenaline into the body’s system.
If a child is constantly feeling anxious or stressed for a prolonged period of time, his body might not get the signal to resume normal functioning which can then weaken his immune system, leaving him more vulnerable to viral infections.
An anxiety disorder may also cause your child’s digestive system to suffer, increase his risk of getting a chronic respiratory disease (COPD), the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and just general poor health.
How can you help as a parent?
Ensure that your child has a well-balanced diet of nutrient rich food as well as sufficient amount of exercise to keep fit and healthy. Allow him to participate in activities he enjoys, rather than just mugging away at his studies, homework and tuition classes.
Give your child the reassurance that he is loved unconditionally regardless of his academic achievements or general behaviour. Focus on the bright side of things and what your child does right, rather than pick on him for his shortcomings and mistakes.
Help your child cope with stress and anxiety by teaching him various relaxation exercises such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and the use of guided imagery to calm his senses.
Seek professional help
If you are concerned that your child may be suffering from anxiety, you should immediately seek for help from a healthcare provider, professional counselling or support groups such as REACH for Students or The Singapore Association for Mental Health.
Do you think that children in Singapore suffer a lot of stress and are at risk of getting anxiety attacks? We would like to hear your feedback in the comments section below.