Anxiety Strategies for children experiencing mental health difficulties

Anxiety, it’s a condition that affects everyone! Anxiety is the bodies voice of expressing feeling’s or more accurately, a fear of something. The voice of their inner emotions! Anxiety plays an integral part in ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s, PTSD and is also an integral aspect with sensory behaviour.

Anxiety has two sides, it can be intrinsically driven, from unconscious early traumas or wounds, or extrinsically projected, by environmental circumstances.
In behaviour, anxiety is communicated through many mediums- ritualistic behaviours, obsessions and other routines that the person has developed to help cope with the internal turbulence that affects the body and their ability to cope in the outside world! Some children may cry, some may act out of character, some may be disruptive. The effect isn’t important, what is important with why they are acting in this way!

Anxiety is a silenced voice. The voice of the inner child, that was wounded, abandoned or hurt or scared! Some may have experienced severe trauma, such as war, violence or abuse. Which then has a more deepened impact on their brain development: often leading to PTSD. Or it could be a voice that has been repressed, due to having little or no control in the given environment!

Giving time, support and using effective strategies is far more powerful to help overcome their inner trauma and distress, helping to re-build self-esteem and self-worth. Assessing the environment is also useful, if strategies of self-soothing have had no effect.
Giving up and putting them onto medication? Now is this wise if the anxiety is sensory related! Or maybe trauma related? In my professional opinion, NO. But each story is unique to the child or adult.

As humans, we are sensory and sensitive creatures, we have seven main senses, sight, sound, touch, taste, small, vestibular and proprioception. These seven senses are often ‘out of synchronisation’ when a child is experiencing anxiety or repressed trauma, as the effects are seen in their behaviour!

Strategies to help cope with anxiety are far more effective, and empowering than dependency on medication alone. Although in some cases, medication may be necessary, it isn’t the only option. By learning to cope with anxiety and finding the appropriate strategy to help reduce the physical effects, we can learn to conquer the physical effects and reduce the power it has on the body and on the mind.

These are the strategies I use with the children I work with children and teenagers in child and adolescent mental health. Not all of these strategies will be effective but you should be able to find one or two that do, and it does require patience and persistence to achieve optimum results. Finding the most effective sensory strategy can have an empowering effect with coping, in an overstimulated world.
Strategies to try


• Sound;
Listening to Binaural beats, 528hz, 428, hz
White noise and any other relaxing music, like rain water, singing bowls.

• Smell;
Having a powerful scent on a hankie
Wearing something that is of comfort or reminds them of safety. A safe parent?
Smell pots.

• Taste;
Biting something like a chilli, or a drop of tabasco sauce
The hot/Cold techniques have a powerful effect to stopping the person going into a meltdown, or what is often seen as a progressive increase in the anxiety driven fears.
Chewing gum also helps with proprioception.

• Sight;
Look around the environment and count five things with five main senses

• Touch;
Wearing a band to snap
Having something in the pocket to hold and squeeze.
Dipping the hand into cold, holding ice or submerging the hand into ice helps.

EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique, a strategy that helps to release, blocked or repressed emotions. Check out you tube channels, where there is a plethora of free advice to help you learn this valuable tool.
EMDR – Eye movement De-Sensitisation and reprocessing, this is usually carried out with a qualified therapist and helps to reduce anxiety. If you’re having difficulty coping along, a qualified CBT therapist can help immensely.

Having a diary or a book to write about their secrets is effective, but not all children like this method.
• For smaller children, make a panic/secret box.
The secrets box is a communication tool that works well for small children. This is to help them to write something that has upset or scared them, and they felt worried about something or, it could be a bad nightmare. Having a panic box allows the child to feel safe that they can tell someone about something that frightens them, but without the added direct contact with an adult as this allows a more open expression for the child. This could be because it was the adult, that caused the trauma to begin with. So, the method may take some time to build trust.

Deep breathes are a good way to help calm on overactive mind and body, but when the heart is pounding, and the hands are shaking, it can be hard to calm down.
Breathing into the diaphragm has a grounding effect and helps to bring the person back into the now. Mindfulness is also a useful tool to use, but again, this can take time to develop and may need other strategies to be enforced before mindfulness can be effective. Taking a long deep breathe in, expanding the stomach, and slowly releasing the air, a couple of times is useful to enable a calm response and bring you back into the now moment.

• Left right balance
By using two thumbs against the nostrils, hold one thumb against one nostril and block one side, with the opposite nostril, breathe in deeply into the stomach, and then as you exhale, block the nostril that you inhaled from, and exhale from the opposite nostril. Repeat the sequence a couple of times, it helps to rebalance the left-right brain.
Inhale in left nostril – exhale right nostril. Inhale right nostril – exhale left nostril.
It helps to clear the mind and rebalance.

Four by four
Another breathing technique is the four by four.
Inhale on four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts and then hold for four counts.
As you become more confident with breathing you can increase the counts but starting with four is ideal!

Re-building the self
• Positive statements
Positive statements – have an empowering effect and help to lift mood.
Achievement Diary – write down achievements, as this helps rewire the neurology
Accomplishments – write a list of things that you have accomplished that you can look over, when feeling low.

• Gratitude Diary sheet
Finding things, you are grateful for has a powerful effect in recovery

Once you can find something that helps you address the bodies reaction to anxiety. The next step is to investigate how to overcome or address the trauma!
Once an effective strategy is found, and your able to feel in a more calmer frame of mind, then you can move forward and start addressing the cause.

Talking about what it is that makes you feel anxious. Talk to someone you trust.
Get creative; Writing out the trauma has a positive effect, then once you have written the event, allow yourself to let the emotions come up with it. If you start to get angry, or even cry, whilst writing about it, that’s good. That means its working and you need to keep going, Its better out than in. The therapeutic effect of writing out your trauma is a powerful method. Often, we have dark professional may get you in trouble! You might fear being judged!!

Write it; I promise you it will allow you to feel safe in your disclosure and allow you the chance to vent and reflect.

Draw it; another powerful method that helps the inner voice find an outlet. Pictures have a powerful way of describing a story or dark event, a picture can tell a thousand words

Celebrate your recovery
Make your courage a ceremonial ritual, where you can let the pain or trauma go. There are several ways to achieve this;
Burn it; Don’t keep it, it will make you suffer more and that’s not the objective. If you don’t want to burn it, rip it into millions of pieces and throw it away. Whichever option you choose doesn’t matter, what does matter is that you destroy or throw it away, as it allows you to let it go!
Then celebrate, it’s an achievement, an act of courage, so celebrate that you’ve finally let it go.

Don’t be afraid of your anger – Get angry safely
With younger children, or maybe even people with a learning disability and struggle to cope with lots of rules of do’s and don’ts, getting angry can sometimes be a challenge to explain and to manage.
The method that works best is to instil in the younger child the three rules;
• Don’t hurt your self
• Don’t hurt other people
• Don’t hurt property.

Get the energy that’s pent up, out. Try punching something, or throwing something, anything that you can get your energy out. But make sure it doesn’t affect the three rules!

Join a gym, if you find that your energy is active, walking helps too and is gentler. Observe your surroundings, admire nature in all her splendour.

Cry, often through tears we can release a lot of tension and vent out what’s lurking beneath the surface. Many people feel afraid to cry as they may see this as weakness, it isn’t, it’s a powerful release of pent up emotions that have been supresses due to the fear that the anxiety created in the first instance.

Punch and bag, the pillow, anything that will help you release the pain underneath. With small children giving them some old plates to smash can have a powerful effect for them as they scream and cry.

If movement is a problem, rip or tear up some paper, get those hands busy while the energy is high.

Pulling on a theraband, can also help with proprioception, getting the blood circulating into the muscles can have a powerful effect too.

Often when we have been held back from enjoying life, we lose the ability, or the confidence to engage socially. We are social creatures and although it can be scary to want to leave the comfort of your home, or bedroom or even to be able to return to school. Socialising is often one of the hardest parts of recovering from anxiety and its crippling effects on life enjoyment.

One of the more safer methods of social engagement is to join in, online. This allows you to feel safe behind a screen and reduces any anxiety with face to face engagement. It also helps you to feel a part of a bigger network, allowing your confidence to develop, opening you up to the world of socialising, without having the surge of physical emotions to cope with.

• Comment on someone’s Facebook or another media outlet
• Write in to a show
• Comment on you tube video’s
• Reply to a magazine
• Join a group that captures your interest
• Build your confidence online, you deserve to be heard

Make sure your comments are positive, expressing gratitude, as this has a powerful effect on changing your thought patterns internally, re wiring the neurology in the mind, which will extend into your everyday life.

If you begin to make comments that are offensive, critical or argumentative, this will impact on all the work you have achieved so far, impeding your recovery. Because the other person may come back to you with an equally negative comment which you may take on a personal level, affecting your anxiety and possibly anger levels.

We’re aiming to rewire those negative thoughts, by commenting negatively, the neuro- linguistic patterns will be sabotaged again, impeding your progress.

Stay positive!! 

Social engagement;
• Join a new group, find a hobby you enjoy and expand your social circle.
• Volunteer; this can be a great way to meet new people and increase your employability skills too.
• Find your passion and follow it.

Once you’re able to feel in a stronger state of mind, then you can start to unravel the layers that are overloaded on top of the trauma. What isn’t safe, is to try to address the trauma, before building up the self esteem and by finding the effective anxiety strategy first.
The process follows a pattern, and the pattern is designed to help you re-build the self, and your self-esteem, increasing your confidence and returning to enjoying life and the world around you.


In my next post, I will show you how to manage low functioning autism and other brain related trauma’s to mange anxiety in children with non verbal – challenging behaviour.


Feel free to comment on any of this post, tell me what works best for you.

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