Ep. 7 - LiveWell Talk On...Kids and Anxiety

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Ep. 7 - LiveWell Talk On...Kids and Anxiety

episode 7

Ep. 7 - LiveWell Talk On...Kids and Anxiety

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Host: Dr. Dustin Arnold, chief medical officer, UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's Hospital

Guest: Christy Aquino, social worker and licensed therapist, UnityPoint Health

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Dr. Arnold:

This is LiveWell Talk On...Kids and Anxiety. I'm Dr. Dustin Arnold, chief medical officer at UnityPoint Health - St. Luke's hospital. Joining us today is UnityPoint Health social worker and licensed therapist, Christy Aquino, to talk about how anxiety and pressure can impact kids, whether it's adjusting to social situations or a new environment. Good morning.

Christy Aquino:

Good morning.

Dr. Arnold:

Welcome.

Christy Aquino:

Thank you.

Dr. Arnold:

I think to start off, tell us the difference between being anxious and having anxiety.

Christy Aquino:

Well, I think we all get anxious. We all have times where we feel anxious about something if it's a situation or a change in something. We all have anxious tendencies. But anxiety is more of a debilitating factor for people. It limits their function in their day-to-day life, so they may not be able to get up and go to work or be able to go to school. It may change how they process things throughout the day. So we all have anxious tendencies, but anxiety is of a more of a debilitating aspect for people.

Dr. Arnold:

What are some common causes of anxiety, particularly for children?

Christy Aquino:

A lot of times with children if the parents are going through a divorce, a change in the household, whether it's a new baby in the house, sometimes just them being overly involved, will create a lot of anxiety because they have a lot of pressure to do things and they can't live up to those pressures sometimes. Moving all sorts of different things, changing schools, starting school, maybe it's a daycare or going from maybe middle school to high school or elementary to middle school. Some of those changes really create some anxiety for kids.

Dr. Arnold:

I can imagine. I had friends that were quote army brats unquote that, you know, may have attended four or five different schools by the time they graduated from high school and they had related to me how that's either you are really good at making new friends or you become very poor at it and withdrawn and it's a choice, a dilemma that they face. Well, I'm going to ask you, I'm going to kind of drift into the irony of the question of social media since people are probably listening to this broadcast, podcast on social media, but how has social media influenced children and anxiety?

Christy Aquino:

It has such a huge impact on kids because they get on, when we were kids, we could leave it all at school, right? We would go home and we kind of forget about the day. But kids today, they get home and they are never away from it. So they're comparing or they're seeing that maybe this friend is hanging out with this group of friends and they weren't included or you know, a lot of different things. They just get on and they scroll through different social medias and they're comparing. Sometimes they get so addicted to their phones and the social media that it creates so much anxiety for them. The social media aspect has just really taken a toll on kids these days with their comparison factor and their anxiety.


Dr. Arnold:

I can imagine. Everybody on social media has a perfect life on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, etc. So I'm sure. And kids compare themselves to, adults compare themselves to each other. You know, the phrase that sometimes I use is, nobody ever, you never leave high school.

Christy Aquino:

Right.

Dr. Arnold:

You know, I think that carries over into your adulthood to some degree. And I can imagine that competitiveness to, I don't want to say out do each other, but there is a lot of pressure.
Christy Aquino:

Right.

Dr. Arnold:

I think particularly in our family, we have daughters that are athletes. There's a competitive nature anyway, and I think that just puts more pressure on them to the degree that they can affect their athletic performance to some degree. What are some, you mentioned some, but if you want to carry it a little bit further, what are some symptoms as a parent that I should be watching for anxiety in my children.

Christy Aquino:

A lot of kids who are anxious, they get very angry. So anger is an outward emotion for an inward feeling. And when kids are very anxious, a lot of times they snap very quickly. So maybe it's a change in structure and we think it's no big deal, right? We're just changing, like we're not going here but we're going, you know, here and so to us it's no big deal. But a kid who has anxiety, they see it as a big deal because it's like they were planning this and you've changed it to this, and so they might get really angry and you don't understand why when they're changing, when you're just changing the schedule. So anger is one of those things. If they're being withdrawn a lot of, they don't want to hang out with friends anymore, they just want to spend time in their room, they don't really want to socialize with family, some of those types of things. Maybe it's becoming social anxiety. They're afraid they're being compared or their friends are judging them and some of that type of stuff that's leading to the anxiety aspect. And so just really being aware of their, if their behaviors are changing to a point where it's becoming more debilitating in our daily life.

Dr. Arnold:

Yeah, times have changed definitely. And I'm showing my age, because when I was a kid it was punishment to go to my room. Now I see kids go to their room by choice to watch Netflix or whatnot on their devices. So times certainly have changed.

Christy Aquino:

Absolutely.

Dr. Arnold:

I think kids are busier, you know, as you get older you remember more than you've seen and you've seen more than you remember I always say, particularly physicians, but, you know, I think they're busier. When I was a kid, summertime was a race against sunlight. You just got up in the middle of the day and you just, completely care free. You did hundreds of things, but there was no time limitation other than when the sun went down you had to be home. I see kids, you know, my daughters are 15 and 18, so they're getting older now, but I mean they have planners and they have schedules and our mud porch has a big calendar on it with all these hours of commitment that they have. And don't you think that contributes some, because they're worried about, okay, I need to complete this fun activity to get to the next activity when, I can't imagine how that doesn't create some degree of anxiety and pressure.

Christy Aquino:

Oh, absolutely. I mean these kids, a lot of them are just so structured that they don't even have time. You know, or the anxiety of how am I going to get my schoolwork done. You know, when I have the commitment of, you know, three hours of volleyball practice or football practice or whatever the case is. Yeah. A lot of these kids are over-scheduled and it is different than when we were kids. When we were kids it was, you know, right, like you said, just beating the clock until dark and when it's dark, your parents call you in for dinner and you don't want to go inside.

Dr. Arnold:

Right, and I think there's pressure to as parents, I know it was, you know, we all, our daughters don't need cell phones, why would they need a cell phone? But then they have all these practices and engagements that prior to obtaining a driver's license, you have to be the transport, the Uber driver as my wife would say. And so you need to communicate with them. I'm going to be five minutes late, I'm going to, you know, I'm going to be 15 minutes late, but I'm on my way, don't panic. And so it's, it's a vicious cycle kind of feeds itself. You put more emphasis on those devices which causes more anxiety and then subsequently more emphasis and etc.

Christy Aquino:

Right.

Dr. Arnold:

What are some tools that you can provide to help with anxiety? And I want to stay away from medications. I mean these are kids. Kids should not be on medications if we can help it, you know, there's exceptions to that general statement. But for the most part we don't want to commit to the medication in a teenager because that could be decades of therapy and who knows what that would lead to. We don't know. So what are some non-medication, non-pharmacy treatments for anxiety?

Christy Aquino:

A lot of times with kids, we, you know, we want to make sure that parents are providing that, first of all, that break in their schedule, right? Give them their time and whatever their time means. And you know, a lot of times we as parents want to, we want the structure and we want them to be busy, and what that busy means, you know, is our busy a lot of times, not necessarily what the kid needs. So, you know, listening to them and giving them their time to have their fun. But then also, sometimes if kids are experiencing anxiety, sometimes a weighted blanket will help. Maybe they're not sleeping well, maybe they can't because their mind is racing. You know, sometimes a weighted blanket will help them just feel a little bit more comfortable and get them the rest that they need. Just, you know, making sure that they have people that they can talk to. So if they have people, help them identify people at school that they can, if they're feeling anxious that they can go to and talk to, or maybe there's a neighbor or a friend or somebody, you know, making sure that parents are available to them to help them through, you know, the anxious thoughts and the overwhelming feelings that they're experiencing. Teach them those coping skills of being able to stop and take, you know, deep breaths. When my kids were little, I used to say, okay, like this is mom's space, I'm going to take, and then I would sit and take, you know, 10 deep breaths and I would, you know, if I was feeling overwhelmed, I could, you know, then go back into the situation. So just teaching some of those coping skills that they can use anywhere, anytime. Some kids, if they have a fidget, you know, cube or a, something of that nature that they can play with, sometimes that's helpful for them in different environments.

Dr. Arnold:

Just on a related note, you mentioned the weighted blankets, I encourage listeners to do the research on where that came from. I cannot remember the lady's name, but I believe she had some degree of autism and she was on a ranch out in western United States and she would put herself in the, where they would hold the cattle to brand them and she'd feel the pressure and her anxiety would go away. And then she subsequently wrote the literature on the weighted blankets, which, you know, I know they didn't, I have friends that they're dogs, thunderstorms, fireworks bother them. They have a vest that they put on them and it's fascinating literature. So, I should know more, I should know her name and some more of the circumstances. Of course I read it, but I don't remember. When should I say I have to get a counselor. I need, I'm a parent, I can't do this. What are some warning signs that it's, is it duration of illness? Is it, it's absentee from school? I know. When do I say that enough is enough?

Christy Aquino:

I would say if you're child is refusing go to school and it's become a pattern and it's interfering or you see them failing classes and you know, some of the behaviors that are out of the norm for them, it doesn't hurt. Reach out to a professional, get them in to see somebody that can maybe process through what's going on, you know, help determine some coping skills with them, set some coping skills with them and you know, identify what's really going on. That also can just be another person in their toolbox that they can, you know, go to and talk to that's a neutral somebody, versus mom or dad or you know, somebody that they know about what's going on in their lives.

Dr. Arnold:

Perfect. You know, I think we should, we need to have you back, to talk about attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. I think that, I'm an adult doctor I'm not a pediatrician, but I do think that term is overused at times and so we're definitely going to have you back to talk about that. But this has been some great information, Christy. Thank you for coming. Again, that was Christie Aquino, a social worker and therapist with UnityPoint Health. If you have a topic you'd like to suggest for our LiveWell Talk On... podcast, shoot us an email at stlukescr@unitypoint.org and we encourage you to tell your family, friends, neighbors about our podcast. Until next time, be well.

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