The COVID-19 pandemic period is still ongoing and continues to influence our lives in many different ways. One very important impact, that goes beyond physical health and financial challenges, is the enormous resulting emotional overload. In fact, this pandemic has been associated with a dramatic increase in mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. But this is no surprise! How do you feel when, wherever you look, you see people around you in masks, when you cannot see their faces and cannot tell what they’re feeling? How do you feel when people are desperately trying to avoid each other? How do you feel when you cannot invite friends to your home or meet with your relatives? Personally, I feel confused, stressed and simply uncomfortable. All of this behaviour is completely counterintuitive for humans, it goes against our very nature! This is exactly why sensitive children with neurodiversity are experiencing a considerable surge of anxiety, which, to varying degrees, is already commonly present in many of them. The reason for this is that their nervous system is more alert and quicker to react to different stimuli, causing a sensory overload which, in turn, fuels their anxiety! It is important to note that all of these feelings, if left unresolved, will not simply disappear. As with all negative emotions, they are, instead, likely to transform into longer-term issues that can last multiple years.
Thus, arises the question, what can we do to help our sensitive children overcome their pandemic-induced anxiety and move forward with confidence and optimism?
- BE CALM AND GROUNDED.
We have to remember that children look to their parents for guidance on how to handle the world, meaning that when parents are stressed, their children also feel stressed. Therefore, we need to start with ourselves. We need to be calm and emotionally grounded. Take a deep breath. Meditate. Calm your anxious mind. You will soon notice that when you are calm, your kids will also be. Children tend to do what they see.
2. TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN
Don’t be afraid to calmly talk to your children about COVID-19 at a level they understand, without overloading them with information. This is an opportunity to share actual facts and help them work through their feelings. Let them ask questions and help them express themselves through drawing, music and physical activities like dance or sport.
3. CONTROL YOUR ENVIRONNENT, ELIMINATE UNNECESSARY STIMULI
Eliminate extra toxins and irritants, such as bright light, EM pollution, junk food, processed food, drinks with sugar and additives, and negative news. Do lots of calming and relaxing activities like Epsom salt baths, massages with essential oils, read books, listen to music, practice mindfulness together.
4. ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO LEARN HOW TO PAUSE AND BREATHE
Show your children how to pause, recognise what is bothering them and gently but deeply breathe through the nose and out through the mouth. This slows everything down and allows the child to calm themselves down.
5. BUILD A RELAXING SPACE
Together with your children, create a space for for them to “escape” should they need to. Let them choose their favourite cushions, blankets, bean bags etc., anything they want, to really make the place their own little sanctuary! This would be a perfect place for them to keep their “worry box” and “happy box”, where they can put notes about what is concerning them or bringing them joy. Identifying and writing out the emotions felt in such a way, and then physically placing them somewhere else, helps to relieve any anxiety.
6. USE ESSENTIAL OILS
Aromatherapy has proven to be very helpful when dealing with anxiety. The most effective choice is Lavender oil, as it contains an active compound that targets the same parts of the brain as anti-anxiety drugs, only without side effects. The best oils for anxiety, apart from Lavender, are Bergamot orange, Chamomile, Clary sage, Lemon, Neroli, Rose, Ylang-ylang. You can either use them topically or by inhaling them directly or passively through an infuser. Additionally, children may enjoy massages or baths with oils.
7. KNOW WHICH SUPPLEMENTS YOU CAN USE
You can also try different supplements that help with anxiety and stress. Here are a few that I can recommend.
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid, more commonly known as “GABA” is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brain. Very often children with neurological conditions have an imbalance of neurotransmitters and a low GABA level may contribute to their anxiety. You can use the “GABA Calm” formula by Source Naturalis or “GABA” by KAL. You should be able to see whether or not the supplements have had an impact on your child relatively quickly (in 2-3 days).
- L-theanine is an amino acid that boosts GABA levels in the body. It is not an essential amino acid, and our body doesn’t produce it, however, it can be found in green or black tea. As children do not tend to drink very much tea, they may benefit from such supplementation.
- Magnesium is an essential mineral in our body and plays a key role in the body’s stress response, as it helps our muscle cells relax after contracting. When magnesium levels are low, our muscles may contract too much contributing to anxiety and stress. Research shows that the best mineral form against anxiety is Magnesium L-threonate, as it is able to pass through the blood brain barrier and be absorbed by cells.
- Cod Liver Oil contains long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Omega-3 plays a role in strengthening cell membranes and improving the passage of Serotonin, the happiness hormone, into cells.
- Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that produce neurotransmitters including GABA, Serotonin and Dopamine. Research shows that probiotics are able to improve people’s mood and response to stress.
- Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb that has been shown to lower anxiety, especially anxiety related to open or crowded places, as it is lowers cortisol levels in people with chronic stress.
- CBD oil is a non-psychoactive compound that blocks certain enzymes that trigger inflammation in the body and brain, reducing anxiety, an otherwise negative consequence of such inflammation.
With all of these tools, you can work on your own stress levels and then help your children to deal with their anxiety. Lead by example!
The festive holiday period is a great time to practise positive activities as a family, especially this year! Connect with your family in new ways: read books together, play games, go on long walks to breath the fresh winter air and enjoy the opportunity to chat! Best of all, prepare meals together! Take advantage of this time to become closer and to discover different family activities, which will help diminish the anxiety in you and your children.