2014-06-13 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Anxiety in Children
By Dr. Nancy Gahles, DC, CCH

Children are people too. Children are not “little” adults. Children are whole human beings who suffer from situations and events similarly but whose symptom picture may be confusing to adults, teachers and family physicians.

Exposure to a stressful or life threatening incident that poses harm, or that is perceived as a threat to one’s personal safety, is cause for symptoms that can be classified as post-traumatic stress.

A recent study at Florida International University in Miami showed that children who witnessed the bombings at the Boston Marathon were six times more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The witnessing of the catastrophic events of Superstorm Sandy here on the Rockaway peninsula continues to be an issue for many of us but is particularly so for the children. Re-experiencing the event, such as having a flashback, remains a concern as the neighborhoods still show signs of the devastation.

Walking on the beach, looking at homes in various states of disrepair, seeing the absence of the boardwalk and noticing which families have never come back home are constant reminders of the event that caused these losses.

Adults become disabled, physically in chronic pain or mentally, with chronic stress or emotionally with anxiety and depression. Their condition is noted diagnosed and can be compensated for.

Children become dysfunctional. The symptoms of post-traumatic stress include conduct problems, peer problems and anxiety and moodiness. These symptoms are often overlooked and proper treatment is not sought.

Stress in children is manifested in this way. When you are aware of the fact that life threatening events from the past can and often do remain in our consciousness, we can appropriately match the symptoms with the solution.

Stress in children can look and feel like:

Mind - trouble concentrating; recurring dreams or nightmares; sleep disturbances; grief; moodiness; anger; apathy/indifference; irritability.

Body - easily fatigues; bed-wetting; headaches; stomach aches; irritable bowel; decreased immunity; recurring sore throats/colds; functional disturbances with no pathology; appetite changes.

Behavior - avoidance of people or situations; hyper vigilance; startled easily; crying easily; overly concerned about health or the health of loved ones; conduct issues; conflicts with peers or family; argumentative; talking often about the weather or the storm (can’t seem to process it); does not want to go to school or social events.

Rose Alvarez-Salvat, a child psychologist at Miami Children’s Hospital in Florida, said, “Once the bombing was over, people could disengage from the event. However, during the manhunt [that followed] …the thinking was, ‘this is now affecting my home’.”

The ever-present witnessing of the aftermath of the event and the perception that my home is now affected can be the etiology of the symptoms described above and bears close investigation for appropriate interventions.

I was recently invited to give a talk on this topic at the NJ Montessori Conference. The case study that I presented was one of a collaborative treatment model that did not utilize pharmaceuticals for children. Instead, healing results were achieved with Classical Homeopathy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Positive Emotion Psychology.

Teachers were taught what to look for in a child displaying any of these symptoms. They were taught how to approach conversations with the parents. They were taught how these interventions work and how they can be utilized to support whole person healing and integration of traumatic events for children.

Children are whole human beings. When broken, they can be repaired. Children are resilient. They can be taught how to look at traumatic events going forward and how to handle them emotionally so that they do not get stored in memory and replayed in physical complaints or behavioral issues. They can be taught to recognize these symptoms in themselves and promote their own wellness.

Becoming a co-creator of your own health is the foundational principle of The Power of Self Care: A Common Sense Guide to YOUR Wellness Solution, the title of my book and the presentation I was invited to give on June 9 at the Rockaway Artists Alliance. There was resounding agreement that anxieties and PTSD abound here and remain unaddressed.

The Rockaway community needs the education and tools to transform the trauma of Superstorm Sandy. For further information, to schedule a presentation at your club, organization, church/synagogue or school or for individual consultation, please contact me at askdrnancy@aol.com.

May The Blessings Be!

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