Tools to Alleviate Anxiety for School, Home, or Work

Updated: Oct 19, 2018


originally written for and published on Harkla.co


Anxiety

Anxiety. We’ve all experienced it in waves or perhaps it’s a regular occurrence that you manage daily.

Anxiety is the stress, worry, or fear that we feel during a difficult life event, period of transition, or period of uncertainty. What differentiates these typical periods of stress with a diagnosable anxiety disorder is the severity to which it affects your daily functioning and the duration of these feelings.

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, separation anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and phobias (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

Anxiety can result from genetic predispositions or comorbid (coexisting) psychiatric diagnoses like ADHD or autism among others. It may be the result of trauma or a significant life event, and can occur in people who have sensory processing dysfunction.

Anxiety Disorders in Children

It’s normal to experience phases of anxiety throughout childhood. Think of the ‘monster under the bed’ or the anxiety associated with separating a toddler from a parent. These are normal occurrences as children explore and learn about the world they live in.

However, when the anxiety persists and begins to limit one’s functioning, it can become more serious. Stress, nerves, fear, or excessive shyness can prevent children from interacting with the world around them. At this age, a child’s ability to “function” is identified through social-emotional contexts like peer interactions, daily routines and transitions, and early cognitive processes like school performance. Their “job” is to play and learn, and when the level of anxiety is severe, both home and school contexts can be seen to affected.

In their 2015 Children’s Mental Health Report, the Child-Mind Institute reported that 17.1 million children under the age of 18 (of a 74.5 million population) have or have had a diagnosable psychiatric disorder. That’s roughly 1 in 4.3 children! Of these diagnoses, the Child Mind Institute estimated that 40.2% are anxiety disorders, with 8.3% rising to the level of severe impairment. The median age of onset for an anxiety disorder is 6 years old. These statistics are significant, making anxiety “the most common emotional problem in children” (Child Mind Institute).

Anxiety in Teens and Adults

With staggering statistics that outline the prevalence of anxiety disorders in young children and adolescents, it is no surprise that 18.1% of the adult population (18 years+) are affected by anxiety disorders as well (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

These teens and adults are expected to assume more responsibility at home, school, and at work. Higher level social-emotional skills, self-management skills, and cognitive tasks are expected, so anxiety can impact a person’s ability to function in all of these areas.

For questions about the diagnosis of potential anxiety disorders, it is best to consult with your physician or psychologist. We’ve linked you to two sources to get your search started:

Effective Approaches to Treating Anxiety

Common treatment for anxiety disorders in children can include cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressant medication, or a combination of both. This article’s purpose is not to advise or instruct on those medically-supervised approaches, but to inform you as to supplemental strategies that can relieve symptoms associated with anxiety such as fidgeting, self-injurious behavior, sensory sensitivities, and difficulties with self-regulation. The strategies discussed below are not intended to replace professional help.

Anxiety Relief

Many of the strategies listed support the idea of developing Rapid Stress Management Techniques (RSMT) that work for you or your child. When looking closer at the “why” behind some of these strategies, we’ve identified the sensory system that is targeted to help you better understand how these activities/strategies support central nervous system regulation. For more information on sensory processing specifics, read on here.

When choosing anxiety management strategies, be careful to keep in mind your child’s developmental and cognitive level so you select something that is likely to be used independently or with only some prompting. The goal is to develop a “regulation toolbox” of strategies he/she can employ at times of anxiety, so they should be fairly independent. For teens and adults, be cognizant of the need for socially acceptable, discreet regulation solutions as this may impact how willing the person is to consistently try a strategy. What works at home might not be appropriate for the workplace!

Tactile manipulatives - Hand toys aka fidgets


If you read our article on Fidget Toys for Anxiety and ADHD, you learned about how repetitive motor movements with manipulatives, or fidgets, helped to occupy the brain just enough to impact self-regulation. Every body, brain, and personality are different but fidgets, when chosen for targeted features, can redirect potentially harmful repetitive behaviors like skin picking, hair twirling, and/or deep pressure seeking. Below are a few examples of fidgets that offer a variety of textures, movements, and stimulation. For additional fidget examples and DIY ideas, check out more Fidget to Focus ideas here.

Calming auditory input - music, chants, drumming, meditation


It could be something as basic as a rain stick, white noise machine, or soft music playing in the background, but certain types of auditory input can be calming. Chanting, drumming, or predictable rhythmic music can promote regulation and de escalation.

Olfactory input - essential oils, aromatherapy



Lavender, rose, vetiver oil, ylang ylang, bergamot, chamomile, and frankincense are often recommended as the top essential oils to calm anxiety. These aromatherapy products are becoming increasingly popular and offer a stigma-free strategy that offers some anxiety relief. For more information, check out this website and these aromatherapy products:

Proprioceptive input - weighted blanket, weighted lap pad, compression garments

Harkla’s weighted blankets and lap pads are top sellers for a reason! They offer deep touch pressure input with a super soft minky fabric that promotes relaxation. Read here about DTP therapy and how weighted objects provide calming proprioceptive input to promote self-regulation. Some people also find compression garments to be effective in calming and re-organizing and overstimulated central nervous system. If you don’t have any of these products on-hand, a big bear hug squeeze offers the same proprioceptive input.


Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is a portable, no-cost strategy that kids and adults alike can benefit from. Pinterest has great visual supports for young children on breathing to promote relaxation and de escalation.

Accommodations - scheduling, visual timers, offering predictability with familiar routines

Depending on the types of situations that prompt anxious responses, you may find success with some subtle changes to your daily routines and environments. For some children, social stories like this will help with separation anxiety or transitions. For others, the introduction of a visual schedule or ‘first, then’ activity board will lessen the anxiety of not knowing what to expect.

Visual timers, identifying familiar routines, and offering predictability are all ways to support a person who is prone to anxious responses to daily events. Visual supports like emotion thermometers help children to identify anxious feelings and know when to seek help regulating.

Takeaways and Tips

When it comes to understanding the causes of anxiety, level of severity, and course of treatment, it is always best to consult your physician. Early intervention is the key to resolving childhood anxiety and strategies can help support one’s regulation in addition to any professional help that may be needed.

Resources

"Any Anxiety Disorder Among Children." National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2017.

"Any Anxiety Disorder Among Children." National Institute of Mental Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 06 Sept. 2017.

Costello E., Mustillo S., Erkanli A., Keeler G., & Angold A. (2003). Prevalence and development of psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence. Archives of General Psychiatry.60(8):837-844. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.60.8.837.

Merikangas, K., Hep, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., Benejet, C.,…Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication—Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 49(10): 980-989. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017

Brauner, C. B., & Stephens, C. B. (2006). Estimating the Prevalence of Early Childhood Serious Emotional/Behavioral Disorders: Challenges and Recommendations. Public Health Reports, 121(3), 303–310.

Merikangas, K. R., He, J.P., Brody, D., Fisher, P. W., Bourdon, K., & Koretz, D. S. (2010). Prevalence and Treatment of Mental Disorders Among US Children in the 2001–2004 NHANES. Pediatrics, 125(1), 75–81. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-2598

#anxiety #weightedblankets #deeptouchpressure