A leading expert on anxiety, Dr Lynn Miller will be appearing as part of the Dalai Lama Center's Educating the Heart series on April 4. We spoke with her ahead of this week's event.
DLC: What are some of the common symptoms of anxiety in children and teens?
Lynn Miller: Physically, anxiety symptoms can be felt from head to toe. Thinking patterns typically are marked by overestimating some sort of environmental threat and underestimating one’s ability to deal effectively with the threat. Behaviourally, anxiety’s hallmark is avoidance.
DLC: How can parents, and teachers, who may not have the training or background in the matter, learn to recognize anxiety in their child?
LM: The physical symptoms are a clear indicator that this child might be feeling anxious. Another clue for adult caregivers is avoidance; if a child is expected to participate but is showing a lot of resistance or avoidance, the first thought should be, “Is this anxiety? What might this child be fearing?” Another good basic question is, “Is this child more fearful or anxious than other kids his or her age?”
DLC: Is it more stressful to be a child or teen in 2013 than it was for previous generations?
LM: Stress will make anxiety symptoms worse. I suspect that all of us find life in 2013 pretty stressful, and perhaps part of the increase in stress comes from having 24/7 access to the world via technology. Making sure children and teens get enough sleep, are getting enough exercise, are eating healthy diets, and are “unplugging” - can all go a long way to reducing stress.
DLC: Are there things that parents can do to help their children avoid becoming anxious?
LM: We all have anxiety, and in moderate amounts, anxiety actually will enhance performance. Parents can be taught to recognize signs of excessive anxiety and be alert to avoidance, and to help their child practice being calm and brave no matter where that child is.
DLC: If there is one message you hope people take from your lecture, what would that be?
LM: Anxiety disorders are common, can pose enormous difficulties for children, teens and adults, but also respond to psychological interventions. Given the chance to learn skills, and with parenting shifting to be more supportive rather than protective, anxious kids will live exciting, fantastic lives.
You can read the whole interview here