Kids and Anxiety; One Common, Yet Surprising Cause
By now, most people are aware that the pandemic caused a massive spike in mental health problems, including that of children. But even before the pandemic, many kids experienced anxiety. It’s one of the most common issues that child therapists see. Anxiety can have many causes. And it can be difficult at times to narrow down the origin. Anxiety tends to be a shifty, sneaky emotion that likes to hide under the surface.
When my daughter complained that her wrist was hurting, my wife and I were naturally concerned, but we quickly realized that my daughter’s wrist wasn’t the problem. My daughter was convinced she had a broken bone (which of course was silly since she hardly expressed any pain).
Two of my daughter’s friends had broken some bones on the playground recently. Our daughter was naturally anxious about this. We played along and wrapped her wrist up. By the morning, her wrist was better.
“You must be one of those quick healers,” I told her, hoping to help head off the next flair-up of this worry about breaking bones.
Was the fear of a broken bone really the cause of her reaction? Or was it simply the surface explanation?
Anxiety is shifty, after all. Perhaps her anxiety hadn’t even started at the playground.
Photo by Klas Tauberman on Pexels.com
The Truth Behind Many Anxiety Issues in Kids
The other day I woke up anxious. A few of my fingertips had been numb, and I quickly fixated on the strange numbness, testing the amount of numbness in each one with the tip of a pen. All the while, the dread of some rare condition came to mind.
Within moments, the thought crossed my mind that a vertigo spell I experienced earlier in the week was related to the nerves in my hands. Soon, everything was related to that fingertip numbness, like the fatigue I experienced playing golf some fifteen years ago and the mono I had in high school. It all added up in my mind to a definitive diagnosis of MS…or definitely maybe some other degenerative disease.
It was the first time in a decade I had panicked so desperately and so irrationally about my health. Back then, I sought therapy about health fears. The therapy was successful then, but the panic had suddenly resurfaced.
Parents love their children and want what’s best for them, so it is often distressing to recognize that our own mental health issues can insidiously appear in our kids. Often, parents remain unaware of this until parent-child therapy illuminates this transfer of irrational fears. It’s fantastic when parents realize this and get into therapy themselves. The child’s anxiety is much more treatable when the parent gets treatment too. They can then model and bring a sense of calm and wellbeing into the home and their relationship with the child.
But many parents don’t know they have anxiety, even after anxious behaviors are obvious in parent-child therapy. That’s how anxiety works. It hides, it transforms, and it transfers.
So, back to my daughter’s anxiety. It was easy to identify the source…me. But did that solve the problem? Was it, in fact, the real problem?
Or had my anxiety masked something deeper.
“You know your fingers are not the problem,” my wife said as I tried to talk my own panic attack away.
I realized then that I had forgotten about an appointment. It was an appointment for a real health problem the very morning I had felt the numbness and convinced myself I had a rare disease.
I would have missed the appointment without my wife snapping me out of it. My shifty anxiety did not want me to face reality. It hid and found an outlet in my fingertips. Then, it jumped to my daughter and preyed on her wrist.
But what about the numbness in my fingers? Was that anything?
Once I realized that the numbness wasn’t where my anxiety originated, I quickly identified sources of the numbness. I had begun practicing guitar again, and I had joined a new gym with brutally thin barbells that had put some compression on my wrists. That I had any sensation remaining in my fingertips that week was probably the more interesting fact about my hands.
Sometimes our anxiety tries to sabotage us when we are not even aware. With anxious children, parents may want to reflect on any underlying anxiety in themselves. I know I have. I’m in therapy for it. And once I’m feeling better, I bet my daughter’s bones may not seem so broken to her.
This blog was written by guest blogger Peter Galligan – spouse of April Galligan, owner at upliftmechildtherapy.com
Peter is a father, life-long anxiety sufferer, and freelance writer (Peter Galligan Writes).