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Natural Awakenings Central New Jersey

Back to School Stress: Ways to Relieve Your Child’s Anxiety

Sep 01, 2021 11:10AM ● By Joe Condora

Back-to-school time can be both an exciting and nerve-wracking time for a child as there are several unknowns. Most students will have new teachers, new friends, and be learning an entirely new curriculum. While these unknowns can be exciting, they often come along with a degree of anxiety.

Taking into account that many students were schooling virtually in 2020 due to the pandemic, the 2021-2022 school year is likely to be a challenging year for children. COVID-19 prevention protocols such as wearing masks in the classroom and social distancing are relatively new concepts that children are not fully accustomed to in a classroom setting.

According to the CDC, approximately 25% of children between the ages of 2 and 17 are found to have behavioral problems, anxiety or depression. The incidences of anxiety in children have been consistently on the rise over the last 10 years, highlighting the importance of anxiety-prevention techniques and lifestyle modifications.

Below are three daily habits that have been clinically shown to offer protection against anxiety and depression in children.

1.  Encourage Nose Breathing

An underappreciated factor that plays a role in mental, emotional, and physical health is breathing. Research shows that the way we breathe can influence anxiety levels, memory, focus and blood pressure. When we focus on breathing through our nose, we produce a chemical known as nitric oxide that offers anti-depressive, anti-anxiety and cognitive enhancing effects. 

In 2011, the Journal of Affective Disorders published a paper on the effect that nitric oxide has on feelings of depression and anxiety. The researchers concluded that the anti-inflammatory effect of nitric oxide is likely the reason for its beneficial effects for depression and anxiety. 

While there are many ways to influence nitric oxide production naturally through diet, exercise and supplementation, breathing through the nose is a simple and free way to enhance one’s mental and emotional health. Encouraging children to breathe through their nose instead of their mouth can have a considerable impact on how they will be able to cope with the stressful experience of going back to school.

2.  Consider Probiotics

While probiotics are commonly understood to be beneficial for the gut, research also shows that probiotics can be greatly beneficial for managing anxiety and depression. In 2020, a paper published in the Nutrients journal examined the effect that probiotic supplementation has on brain wave activity, feelings of anxiousness and attention span. The researchers found that four weeks of probiotic supplementation was able to modulate brain wave activity, increasing delta brain wave and theta brain wave activity. Theta brain wave activity is associated with enhanced feelings of relaxation and decreased anxiety while delta brain wave activity is associated with attention and focus.

Although consuming yogurt made with probiotics is a great way to improve gut health, many commercial yogurts don’t contain live probiotics rendering them more of a dessert than a health food. Aside from the fact that most commercial yogurts are not made with live probiotics, many of these yogurts also contain large quantities of sugar, potentially feeding bad bacteria in the gut and contributing to worsened emotional and mental health.

While it would be in the best interest of our children to diversify the sources of their probiotic intake to include sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and yogurt made with probiotics, getting our children to eat these foods can be a full-time job in itself. A convenient way to increase probiotic intake is to use a chewable or unflavored probiotic powder. The probiotic powder can easily be added to water, yogurt, and smoothies. 

3.  Promote Adequate Hydration

A severely overlooked factor in a child’s health status is their hydration level. Research continues to prove that high cognitive function is reliant on adequate hydration (amongst other factors). According to 2014 research published in the PLOS One journal, increased water intake is associated with decreased incidence of anxiety and depressive symptoms. To conduct this study, researchers split participants up into two different groups. Group #1 included individuals who typically drink 2.5L or more of water on a daily basis. Group #2 consisted of individuals who typically drink less than 1L per day.

The researchers asked group 1 participants to start drinking less water and group 2 participants start drinking more water, essentially swapping their roles. After the study concluded, group 1 participants reported feeling less energetic, more lethargic, and decreased feelings of positivity. After increasing their water intake, group 2 individuals reported feeling less symptoms of anxiety and depression, more energetic, and higher feelings of positivity. 

It is not uncommon for children to go the whole school day drinking less than 16 oz (one bottle) of water. While it may seem inconvenient to load up on water during the school day and increase the frequency of trips to the restroom, encouraging your child to sip on water throughout the day and stay hydrated will offer protective effects against feelings of anxiety and depression.

Main Takeaway

Back to school time can be an anxiety-provoking experience for both children and their parents. Utilizing the three techniques discussed above may offer valuable protection against anxiety and feelings of depression. Although the anti-anxiety methods mentioned above may be clinically effective, we encourage working with a qualified healthcare practitioner to determine if these methods are right for you and your child.

Joe Condora is the Nutrition & Health Coach at Valley Integrative Pharmacy. His specialties include nutraceutical counseling and creating personalized meal plans for clients to achieve optimal wellness. 

Location:  75 Washington Valley Rd., Bedminster. Call Valley Integrative Pharmacy to discuss which probiotic supplement would be most appropriate for you or your child. 908-658-4900. See ad, page 3.