Anxiety is quite a common condition that many people may experience to a different degree and level. However, it is especially disruptive when encountered in children, particularly sensitive ones. Our children live in a stressful environment where they experience lots of peer pressure and tension caused by high expectations from society and even family. The COVID-19 pandemic period has also contributed to this ongoing issue by generating an additional enormous emotional overload that has and is impacting the health, behaviour and performance of our children.
At the same time, our children do not know how to recognise, process and manage stress, leaving this unprocessed emotional stress to keep accumulating and potentially causing anxiety. The reason for this, is that a child’s nervous system is more alert and quicker to react to different stimuli, causing a potential sensory overload which, in turn, stimulates their anxiety! In fact, if anxiety and its causes are left unresolved, they are likely to transform into longer-term issues that can last multiple years and negatively influence our children’s health and happiness.
Therefore, understanding the real roots of a child’s anxiety and addressing them is very important. However, along with emotional causes, there are also certain physical, less obvious reasons that, nevertheless, have a significant impact on anxiety levels. Such hidden reasons are important to recognise and address.
Let’s have a look at three of these hidden causes.
External toxins and chemicals
The human brain is very receptive to different types of toxicity, including mycotoxins that are produced by mould in the house, can originate from the chemicals that we use for cleaning, and can be found in furniture, carpets and so on. For example, one study has shown that approximately 40% of the residents lived in damp, mouldy households, were at 34–44% higher risk of developing anxiety and depression than the residents of mould-free homes (1). The food we eat can also contain various toxins in the form of mould, pesticides, heavy metals, food additives, taste enhancers and so on. For instance, in food we often come across artificial sweeteners. One of them, aspartame has been linked to anxiety, insomnia, brain damage and other serious conditions (2).
It is important to note that children are more sensitive to various toxins as they have lower body mass, higher metabolic rate, and a not-yet-fully developed detoxication system in their bodies. This means that environmental toxins affect them more than they do adults.
It is, therefore, advisable to consider revising those potential sources of toxicity in the household and food, and eliminate them if possible.
The significant correlation between poor nutrition and poorer mental health in children and adolescents has been clearly established (3). A lack of vital vitamins and minerals as a result of eating processed food, poor gut health and low absorption of micronutrients can generate anxiety and panic. For example, magnesium plays an essential role in brain function and controls the mood. Therefore, if lacking, it is a risk factor for anxiety and depression.
Children nowadays have many different food sensitivities and sugar cravings that also contribute to anxiety and uncontrolled behaviour. Therefore, it is worthwhile to provide children with less processed, real food, as much as possible. Try monitoring the reaction of your child to specific food and eliminate it for at least 2 months to minimise the impact and reduce the inflammation it is causing. You can then perform a test for essential vitamins and minerals and assess what may be missing from the body, so that you can supplement your child accordingly.
Gut health and dysbiosis
Another well-established anxiety root is dysbiosis, otherwise known as imbalanced gut microflora (4). Gut microbiota regulate brain function and can produce specific neurotoxins that impact children’s behaviour and anxiety. Beneficial gut bacteria produce not only important vitamins but also make and regulate important substances for mental health, like serotonin – a happiness hormone, and GABA – a calming neurotransmitter. For example, it has been shown that species of Lactobacillus help improve stress resilience and alleviate anxiety, memory, and cognitive symptoms (5).
Therefore, a suggestion would be to address the gut health of your children, as it is directly connected to their brain function and behaviour. The use of nutritional therapy can be very effective in tackling this issue.
I hope you find this information useful as it may lead you to discover specific actions to start addressing any anxiety in your children. However, finding the real causes of anxiety and fixing them may take some time. Thus arises the question, what can you do straight away? How can you help your child with their anxiety today? I would like to share with you some quick but very effective tips:
- Be calm and grounded yourself; start with yourself and emanate serenity, creating a calm and low stress environment at home. This may sound too simple to be true, but children look to their parents as examples and, as all people are, are incredibly responsive to the surrounding atmosphere.
- Talk to your child and let them share their worries with you, helping them to unload their mind.
- Improve your child’s sleep pattern by turning off the Wi-Fi for the night, by running them an Epsom salt bath and reading positive books with your child before bedtime.
- Use essential oils that have a calming and antianxiety effect: Lavender, Bergamot, Chamomile, Clary sage, Lemon, Neroli, Rose, Ylang-ylang. You can either use them topically or by inhaling them directly or passively through a diffuser. Additionally, children may enjoy massages or baths with oils.
- Consider some supplements like GABA, L-theanine, Magnesium, Omega-3, probiotics, Ashwagandha. Talk to a nutritional therapist regarding any individual supplementation support for your child.
To conclude, often important physical roots of anxiety are overlooked, making addressing the anxiety itself more difficult. However, it should not be this challenging! Once we understand where it comes from, we can address it more effectively. Remember – knowledge is power only when you start to implement it. So, please, start to use this information and explore the possible hidden causes of your child’s anxiety. I hope that, through reading this article, you have realised that if anxiety has become an uninvited visitor in your life, there are more solutions available to you than you perhaps thought.
Dr Irina Schurov
Irina is Nutritional Neuroscientist with PhD from Cambridge University (UK) and Healthy brain solution expert with over 20 years’ experience in science and health providing services. She has a passion to help others through nutrition and wellbeing strategies. She especially focuses on neurodiversity and neurological conditions in children by addressing the connection between gut and brain by detoxifying, nourishing and resetting a whole-body biochemical balance.