The end of summer term can ignite a variety of emotions for children. Some children will be delighted by the thought of being back to the school routine/learning. On the other hand, for many this is when anxiety kicks in. There will be an extra level of concern due to Covid 19 due to the pandemic being something none of us have dealt with before.
Lock down has brought experiences which may have had a positive impact on children and their family: more quality time together; sharing new experiences; building relationships; learning new skills such as building resilience; problem solving abilities and new coping strategies.
However, the pandemic will have also impacted children and young peoples’ lives in a negative way causing anxiety and, in some cases, long term mental health consequences.
Anxiety is a normal human experience; we will all experience anxiety at certain times in our lives. Remember with all anxiety comes an opportunity to strengthen our mindset, build skills and develop strategies to work towards a healthy, stable, and wholehearted way of living.
Possible negative impacts include:
- Anxiety and fear about future uncertainty. For example, preparing to go back to school with the many changes; starting the school day with having their temperature taken, wearing masks, school “bubbles” and social distancing encouraged.
- Worries about having fell behind in their learning and uncertainty of schools closing and exam process being changed.
- Lack of social interaction as it has been difficult to maintain friendships remotely. This can cause social anxiety and a loss of confidence and social skills.
- Feeling unsafe; concerns about hygiene and illness.
- Trauma: some may have experienced bereavement, families struggling to survive financially with immense pressures.
What are some signs of anxiety?
- Experience of intrusive, unwanted thoughts that they struggle to get out of their head.
- Excessive worrying.
- Seeking constant reassurance.
- Poor sleep patterns.
- Reluctant to try new things
- Unable to cope with everyday challenges.
- Feeling breathless, dizzy, or confused, racing heartbeat, feeling sick or like you have butterflies in your stomach.
- You may see behaviours like nail biting, skin picking or self-harming and angry outbursts.
How to explain anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling; it will come and go and it is as human as having a heartbeat. It comes from a surge of neurochemicals that happen when your body is in fight or flight mode.
This happens because part of your brain thinks it needs to protect you from something. This part of the brain is called the amygdala.
Your amygdala switches on when it feels there might be danger, it can be tiny or a big problem for it will fire up
If you burn toast in the toaster the fire alarm cannot tell the difference between a fire and burnt toast. Your amygdala is the same.
The best way to help your amygdala relax is by thinking positive thoughts, switching the “I can’t do this” to “I can do this”. And by taking strong slow breaths.
Breathing is a great way to calm your nervous system.
How can we help anxiety?
Our brain is like a muscle in our body it will get stronger with practice.
-Create time to interact and co-regulate, our nervous system craves co regulation and we feel safe when we socially engage. Hug and be close, our Oxycontin levels rise when we hug, touch, or sit close to someone. Oxycontin is a happy chemical in our body that relieves stress.
-Structure and routine. Routines help us anticipate what is coming and make us feel safe and secure. Try to create this with your child, setting goals and noticing and praising when completed.
-Implement and co-adventure in coping strategies. Breathing exercises, positive mindset, gratitude thoughts/diary/jars (take time to share each day three things you are grateful for and share what you appreciate about your child).
Mindfulness strengthens the brain against anxiety by strengthening the connection between the amygdala (reactive part of the brain) to the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that can calm big emotions). It is about staying in the present and ‘watching’ your thoughts and feelings without hanging onto them for too long.
Exercise, the effects of exercise and mental health have proven powerful.
-Check in with and attune to your child’s feelings, notice them, name them. Validate and lend your adult brain to help them to feel contained and regulated.
Home has been our safe, contained space for the last 5/6 months so venturing out into the new routines can be overwhelming. Be kind to yourselves and others and remember we are all in this together.
“Most importantly, don’t underestimate the power of you. It will not always be obvious, but the presence of you has the profound capacity to help them feel safe, seen, and soothed. You don’t need to have the words or the magic to make things feel better because sometimes, all they need is you.”
By Demelza Wall