Persistent worry, feeling overwhelmed, or being nervous about specific events, or even life in general, can contribute to the experience of anxiety for both adults and children. If this heightened emotional state escalates to where it interferes with a person’s ability to participate in their normal daily routine, they may be identified as having an anxiety disorder.
An anxiety disorder can have causes resulting from an imbalance in brain chemistry and can even develop in the absence of chronic stressors. Effective, natural approaches can be effective in reducing and relieving the pressure-cooker of anxiety symptoms experienced by both adults and children.
Anxiety in Adults and Children Looks Different
There are a few ways in which anxiety can look different in an adult and in a child. Cognitive reasoning, analysis, moral thinking and other brain functions are still developing in children and teenagers so they do not process their experiences the same way as adults. As a result, a child or teen generally has more difficulty identifying and expressing distressful emotional states in themselves and others.
In children, anxiety symptoms may look like:
- Crying spells, low mood, sadness
- Angry outbursts/tantrums
- Hyperactivity or significant reduction in activity
- Frequent nightmares, disturbed sleep
- Persistent restlessness
- Sleepiness or falling asleep in school
- Difficulty concentrating
In adults, one of the biggest differences in how anxiety presents is the adult’s ability to articulate anxiety as a state of being. They are also more likely to experience:
- Muscle tension and tension headaches
- Trouble sleeping
- Changes in appetite
- Chest pain, palpitations, high blood pressure
- Panic attacks
- Nausea, dizziness
- Exhaustion/generalized fatigue
There are many types of anxiety disorders which can develop at any age. It’s more common for adults to be diagnosed with phobias, panic disorders, and generalized anxiety disorder while children and teens are more commonly diagnosed with separation anxiety, generalized anxiety, and social anxiety.
What can cause anxiety?
Like many physical and mental health conditions, anxiety can result from the interplay of:
- Underlying physiological factors (thyroid condition, neurochemical imbalance, nutrient deficiency, or toxins in the blood)
- Events/experiences in one’s environment (trauma)
- Quality of family and other social support (friendships, especially for young people)
- Gastrointestinal (Gut, GI) health: There is a scientifically proven link between gut and brain health. Inflammation in the bowels, digestive organs, and an imbalance in gut flora alters the many biochemical processes that act upon blood sugar level and mood.
Contributing factors that can worsen anxiety include quality and quantity of sleep, quality of one’s diet, timing and quantity of meals, caffeine, nicotine, and sugary food/drink consumption, amount of screen time, social isolation, lack of exercise, and abuse of alcohol and drugs (including prescription medication).
Managing Anxiety Naturally
There are many ways to naturally manage anxiety and one of those ways is through spending time in nature! While many people picture time in nature being week-long hikes on intense trails, spending time in nature doesn’t have to be so adventurous or time intensive.
A 2019 study found spending 10 minutes or more in nature three times a week can reduce biological indicators of stress by over 20%. This is because spending time outside helps you disconnect from stressors and reconnect to your natural environment.
Not only that, but time in nature can make you happier too! A 2020 study discussed the direct relationship between nature and happiness. Spending time in green space improved overall mood and mental health in adults. It’s also been shown to improve cognition and creativity, two other indicators of happiness. If you want to feel less anxious but don’t know how, download my free guide on how to feel less stressed this week using nature.
However, just spending time in nature might not be enough to address clinical anxiety. Having structured nature activities or utilizing other natural health solutions can help you manage your anxiety.
To know which options are right for you, visit your doctor. When a person visits a health practitioner with concerns about anxiety, they will have a discussion about symptoms and life experiences. The practitioner may order blood work to identify the presence of health conditions that can cause anxiety-like symptoms. Based on these results, the healthcare provider may suggest natural approaches to manage anxiety, such as:
- Botanical, nutritional and homeopathic supplements
- Modifying diet to obtain a balance of nutrients and to sustain blood sugar levels
- Exercising (walking, swimming, weight training)
- Adjusting the sleep routine
- Journaling to explore and process underlying social-emotional issues
- Mindfulness meditation practice (breathwork, prayer)
- Working with a professional licensed counselor
- Spending time in nature
- Massage, acupuncture, yoga, and other mindful relaxation strategies
If anxiety appears to be robbing you or someone you care about of the joy of life that can be found even in uncertain and stressful times, support them in seeking help. Gently suggest going for a medical evaluation to see how things can be improved. For a child, ask them to draw a picture (or search online for a “Feelings Wheel”) as a way to express what they are experiencing. Allow them space to process their experience without judgment. Don’t try to fix things, just listen. With a few changes, lots of love and support, anxiety really can be effectively managed naturally.