Manic Monday: The Anxious Ballerina

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The Ballerina is 11. It’s an odd age, not one of the little kids, not even one of the big kids, but not a teen either. For about a month, the usual struggles of being a tween have shaded over into anxious worries. It was quite a surprise–as we wrapped up May, our extra-curricular activities ended. We finished the school year. She and the other kids were looking forward to swimming lessons and the summer STEAM program at our local schools. Everything was looking up.

How do I help an anxious child?
My daughter became constantly fearful and anxious. What could I do to help?

Then, for just a few days, her stomach hurt.  The Ballerina is terrified of vomiting. She will flee the room if she even thinks a sibling (or pet) might possibly vomit. At one point, she would disappear at the slightest cough from the toddler. Logically, she knows she hasn’t had any sort of stomach sickness for over 2 years, but emotionally, the fear is there. Since those few days (when she didn’t vomit), the fear has been constant. Any little twinge of stomach or gut, and it takes over her mind.

So for a solid month, an overly full stomach, gas, constipation and the like have all led to waves of anxiety and fear. We started probiotics to help with the digestive discomfort, hoping that stopping that would stop the worry. They stopped the digestion problems, as did being very careful about her sugar intake. But the worries didn’t go away. Even though she is physically feeling better, the fear of being sick and vomiting still follows her around.

I’m not sure what to do. Take her to our general practitioner? (Our town doesn’t have a pediatrician.) Find a counselor? Wait it out? I know some of this can be caused by the rapid growth that happens in pre-teen and teenage brains. It’s the biggest period of growth since their first few years. It might be the the biggest time for change in their whole lives Couple this with parts of their brain being underdeveloped–especially the pre-frontal cortex–and teens run on emotions and impulse. The amygdala, which is associated with emotions, impulses, aggression and instincts is often in charge. Is the fear a result of this time of “Brain Change”?

Hear is what we’ve done. I don’t know if it’s the right things, but she’s had many more good days than fearful ones this past week. That’s progress. First, we encouraged her to talk to us about it whenever she is beginning to feel fearful. She knows that she’s an extrovert, and I’m an introvert, and that there’s a point where I’m talked out. She’s pretty good about respecting that. I’ve told her she needs to ignore that if the topic is her fear and anxiety. She needs to talk about it, and I’m here for that. Even at midnight. Even a few midnights in a row.

Second, we pulled out all the essential oils that help with emotions and relaxation: lavender, Valor, and Stress Away. She carries an inhaler of Valor with her, so she knows she has something she can do when she feels anxious. Simply having it in her pocket makes her feel more confident and less worried. We are also keeping her busy. She’s bright and has a need to have both her brain and hands engaged. She loves art and creating crafts, but sometimes needs someone to direct her to start (or finish). Sometimes she needs help finding something that sparks her creativity enough to engage her mind fully. Crocheting and knitting aren’t enough, but fan art and fan fiction seem to be doing the trick lately.

Finally, we’re helping her keep the sugar out of her diet. This kid loves her sugar. She has a sweet tooth to beat the band. She knows it’s not good for her, but she has a terrible time resisting it. Sugar gives me mood swings and anxiety as well. Part of me hates to monitor her food too much, but if it keeps her brain on track, it’s worth it, and she thinks so too.

Things are looking up!
Hopefully, we have walked through this trial and can help her grow into all the promise she shows.

For the last week, she’s been able to look forward to leaving the house, instead of worrying over it.  She’s enjoying time at the pool and with friends, instead of tying herself up in knots over terrible possibilities. With my fingers tentatively crossed, I hope we are past this. I know she has a bit of a nervous temperament. I know, with a family history of anxiety (and depression), we will need to keep a close eye on her. For now, though, I can hope that she is finally enjoying summer.

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