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Anxiety in Kids & Teens Amidst the COVID-19 Outbreak

calm kids Sep 10, 2020

Timothy Culbert, MD, IFMCP

Escalating Anxiety in Kids & Teens

This year has been a season of uncertainty for most, mainly due to the coronavirus pandemic. As I transitioned to virtual visits for my patients, I witnessed firsthand the fragile psychological state so many pre-teens and teens are in as they wrestle with that chaos associated with COVID-19. They're often stuck at home, sharing with me how they are frustrated, disappointed, inconvenienced and worried.

The pandemic has increased uncertainty over school experiences, how and when kids might connect with friends, family finances, vacations, part-time employment, and medical and mental health. This lack of a clear path forward, and our powerlessness over many factors about the direction of our lives, can lead to significant stress. 

Rates of Anxiety Disorder in Kids & Teens

Even before the pandemic, studies indicated that anxiety in teens was rising as much as 20% over the last several years. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 1 in 3 of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder[1]. Adolescents have many reasons for experiencing heightened anxiety[2]: 

  • A culture of achievement with high expectations and pressure to succeed academically, socially, and in extracurricular activities.
  • Constant media and exposure to coverage of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, school shootings, and epidemics may lead to a feeling that the world is a scary and threatening place.
  • Negative social media impacts as kids compare their social connections, accomplishments, and life to glossy "influencers" and others in their circles.  

I think it's also important to note that the anxiety and irritability that I have witnessed lately in my patients is largely situational. It does not mean these individuals are experiencing a major, long-term mental health issue. In fact, most kids are experiencing what is sometimes called an adjustment disorder. This can be described as an emotional/behavioral reaction to short-term stressors or situational stress that results in symptoms like anxiety or depression. The symptoms can be functionally impairing, but will likely improve when the stressors are gone or the situation changes. 

Of course, it's not wise to just wait it out. There are many ways to boost up resilience and reduce symptoms so that kids and teens can get through the stressors more easily. See articles below for more natural approaches to support kids. 

Help Kids & Teens Nurture Natural Calm 

Conventional treatment approaches for anxiety have an important role in the treatment of children and teens with more severe forms of anxiety disorders. This includes prescription psychiatric medication (SSRI’s and others). However, in my clinical practice of integrative pediatrics, I rely on natural therapies for anxiety whenever possible.

Many of these therapies are outlined in the following articles. Visit the parts that might align most with your kid.

Other articles that may help:

 

 


Resources

1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml#part_155096 

2.  https://www.childhealthdata.org/learn-about-the-nsch/NSCH 

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